Learning to Let Go
SPMS “TRAIN YOUR BRAIN” COUNSELOR
When I look back on the time as I prepared to be a first-time mom, I recall gathering information from other caregivers and parenting sites on baby gear, sleeping, feeding, and milestones. What I don’t remember is ever really being told just how much parenting would involve letting go. As my children have developed into more independent humans, making their own decisions, I have at times felt unprepared for how to manage this emotionally and, more importantly, in my parenting style. From the moment children are born, the process of letting go begins and in adolescence caregivers and their children often reach new levels of stress in determining just how much independence is manageable for the child and the caregiver.
According to Erik Erikson’s theory on the Eight Stages of Psychosocial Development, during the fifth stage of development, between the ages of 12 to 18, an adolescent’s primary developmental purpose is identity formation. This is a period of intense personal exploration and shaping of one’s personal identity. During this time, caregivers may find that their child experiments with different lifestyles, which can lead to changes in their tastes, fashion, belief systems, interests, priorities and friendships. This can be a rollercoaster ride for parent and child alike. Erikson’s theory highlights that successfully forming one’s identity in this stage of life, supports a person in being more prepared for getting though the next developmental stage of life.
In my role as a school social worker, I often hear about the many struggles between caregivers and their children when it comes the evolution of changes around identity. Sometimes caregivers feel distress when their child no longer wants to continue with a long-time commitment, such as playing a musical instrument or a sport. Other times, their child’s friend group is completely different and along with that their dress style, music tastes and general interests may change, too. Other topics that fill adolescence can include: use of social media and video games, sexual orientation, gender identity, body image, intimate relationships, drugs, and generally testing limits and/or breaking rules. So, when should parents be concerned and, more importantly, when should caregivers step in and set limits? As with most things, the answer is complex and varied depending on the child, family, situation at hand, and considerations regarding whether the situation is safe and age-appropriate.
When it comes to parenting, I’ve often heard people say things along the lines of raising a child based on the adult you want to see in the world, not the child in front of you today. When I think of the challenges of letting go of a certain amount of control as my children grow, I think about these words. Although it’s not so black and white, these words make sense to me. I wonder how will my children learn
self-confidence, if I don’t trust them; resiliency, if I don’t let them fail; responsibility, if they don’t take on more responsibilities (including basic chores and life skills!!!); or leadership, if I don’t let them make some big decisions.
Not much about letting go feels easy, especially when considering that our children’s lack of experience and maturity can make it difficult for us to trust, but trust we must. Trust that they will make mistakes and bounce back; that they may give up on some things and change because that’s a part of life; and that they won’t always be happy and well-adjusted because sometimes life is like this. However, if we are there alongside them, through their trials and tribulations, believing in their strength and their gifts, showing them love, we may better support them in becoming the adults we want to see in the world.
As I think about how to adopt an autonomy-supportive parenting style with my own children as they grow older, I consider the following:
- Accept that there will be mistakes and failures – know that it’s in the rising up and persevering from these moments that our children mature and build resiliency
- My goals may not be my child’s goals – and they don’t have to be because they are living their life with their interests, passions and priorities, not mine
- My child’s achievements and failures are their own – we can beam with pride at their achievements or be filled with pain at their heartache, but their experiences are their own ● Believe in their dreams – if they show passion, determination and commitment toward something, believe in them and encourage them
- Never withhold love because they failed, made a mistake or disappointed you in some way – our love needs to be unconditional for them to believe they are loved and worthy of love ● Role–model – let them see you make mistakes and have dreams and evolve because even adults continue to do those things throughout their lives
- Balance – this is all a great balancing act and letting go and raising well-rounded, healthy, independent children is not about permissive parenting or not having any rules or authority; it’s about understanding that our children will grow up to be adults no matter how we raise them, so the sooner we cultivate opportunities to be more independent in safe and supportive ways, the more we support their journey to adulthood
- The more you do the above, the more they will communicate and build a relationship with you.
There is so much research and many parenting books and websites that support the benefits of raising autonomous children, which can help us build a healthy framework for letting go with a purpose. Below I am including several resources that may be of interest to you, if you want to learn more about this type of parenting style. However you choose to parent, may you be gentle with yourself, reminding yourself that you are doing the best you can with what you’ve got while continuing to do better.
Autonomy-Supportive Parenting, by Emily Edlynn, Ph.D. (pre-order)
How to Raise an Adult, by Julie Lythcott-Haimes
Free Range Kids: How Parents and Teachers Can Let Go and Let Grow, by Lenore Skenazy
“Parenting Teens: What You Should Know”
“Supporting Vs. Enabling”
Ask Lisa: The Psychology of Parenting – https://drlisadamour.com/resources/podcast/
Psychologists Off the Clock –
Emily Edlynn, Ph.D. – The Art and Science of Mom – https://www.emilyedlynnphd.com *** Many of the articles on this website and Dr. Edlynn’s upcoming book were the inspiration for this article***