This is a powerful message packed into a few short minutes. If you have kids who are approaching adulthood, please click and take the time.
The hardest things we encounter as parents are not the midnight feedings and constant demand of the newborn stage. It is not the toddler years when everything we own is either puked, pooped, or drawn on. It’s not even the puberty years when their hormones are going nuts and they don’t even know who they are or who they are becoming. It is this. The release.
Hands down. Hardest thing I’ve ever done.
Years ago, my oldest daughter and I were at incredible odds about some choices she was making in her life. I responded by controlling every move she made. Why? Because I was afraid. I was afraid of her harming herself and ruining this wonderful little life that I thought I set her up to have. And when her actions didn’t seem indicative that that wonderful little life was actually going to happen, it terrified me. It kept me awake. It gave me anxiety. It brought me to tears of both sadness and anger many times.
During those sad months, our relationship crumbled. I have so many regrets about those times. If I could go back and do that whole year differently, the amount of things I would change could probably fill a book.
One day, I found myself in a session alone with her therapist. And she told me these powerful things… “Heather, there are things you get to decide for your children. You get to decide if they get a cellphone or not and at what age. You get to decide if they’ll participate in sports and have a high family standard of academic expectation. You get to decide if they eat healthy or if they eat crap. You get to decide if they’re allowed to have a messy room or a clean room. But here is what you don’t get to decide. Their inner parts. You cannot choose who they love. You cannot choose what they believe. You cannot force your inner parts upon their inner parts. You must let go of that. You see, the stronger you force that, the more they will resist. And in the end, you will lose them altogether. So, breathe. Let go. Release. Parent in the things that are yours to parent, but for those inner parts… let them go. They don’t belong to you. The sooner you get your head wrapped around that, the sooner your relationship with your daughter will heal and the sooner her choices will stop being risky and scary. Speak your truth to her. Oh yes, speak your truth. But then let her decide her path.”
For six horrible months, I did this. And it was grueling. It was hard to see choices being made whose implications seemed vast and with a bad trajectory. But I spoke my truth and let her choose. I told her everything I believed was true and all the dreams I had for her, but when it came time for the choice to be made of who she was going to love and what she was going to believe and what values she was going to espouse, I released. And I didn’t manipulate or punish her with the silent treatment or other forms of control when she decided to actually go off and do the thing I wanted so badly for her not to do.
It was rough. This mama had almost a whole year of sleepless nights.
But one day around six months in to our painful little experiment, she texted me and told me that she had a secret for me. She made me wait a whole painful month before she finally revealed the secret. She realized that some of the choices she was making wasn’t exactly what she really wanted for herself and she really needed help to figure out how to get out of those choices and make better ones.
Even in that moment, when she finally seemed to give in to good reason, I still had to restrain myself. I still had to pull back and “speak my truth and let her decide”. I even had to let her hurt through some of the consequences of the choices she’d made without interrupting it because I know that consequence is our most gentle and loving teacher.
In the end, we reached the end of our dreadful year as reunited friends. And more importantly, the healthy balance of mother and daughter had been reinstated. Without the presence of force from me, she was easily able to see the danger in bad choices. Without needing to counter-pull against me because I’d ceased pulling so hard on her, it became quickly evident to her that her choices were leading to pain and destruction. Without needing to fight me, she was able to embrace the values she’d been raised with because all of her energies were no longer spent fighting with me. She was able to focus those energies on evaluating the cause and effect of her choices.
Two months ago, my first child moved out. And here I am, repeating those lessons. Not because there are bad choices being made but because letting your child go is… well, terrifying. It’s like letting a gorgeous balloon that you’ve tended for 18 years float out of your grasp and seeing it float past a myriad of sharp edges and near misses while you stand there holding your breath. “Please don’t pop. Please don’t pop.”
It’s been a long road for me. Learning this. Learning that my child is his or her own person. That they might not grow up to be exactly how I’ve planned that they would. That they have not only the right, but also the responsibility to make their own choices. To back up and let them choose. To be patient and willing to speak truth that might be ignored. But in the end, I want my children to be thinkers. I want them to know how to evaluate their choices and weigh out their decisions. And I know for dang sure that they won’t be able to do that effectively if I’ve got my hands around their throats.
Speak your truth. Teach them. Instill your values into your children.
But in the end, when adulthood is upon you, you must release. Open up your hand. Let them choose.