Successful parenting sometimes means letting go

Yesterday I read a well-written blog post by fellow CN'er Walter Michka entitled, "How will your kids turn out?" He wrote,

Bryan Caplan, author of Selfish Reasons To Have More Kids believes children’s long-term outcome is more nature than nurture, that parents may have some influence on their children in the short-term but long-term, it's really up to the kids themselves. “…parents picture kids as clay they mold for life,” Caplan explains in an interview for PsychologyToday “when they’re actually more like flexible plastic that responds to pressure, but pops back into its original shape when the pressure is released.”

The bittersweet part of parenthood is that our job is to prepare our kids to not need us anymore. You probably saw it and didn't even know when you taught your kids to ride a bike: They wobble and swerve while you run along side them, holding on, making sure they keep their balance, keeping them from wiping out. Little, by little, you release your grip, let them take over. Once they’re stable, and you’re sure they’re okay on their own, it’s your job to let go.

I quickly forwarded it my aunt who called me just the day before to let me know my cousin, Car,  decided to leave her college soccer team. An heavy academic load combined with differing playing philosophies triggered Car's decision to focus more on school and "being normal". After playing for over 15 years, it wasn't one she took lightly.

Seeing someone you love make a tough but responsible choice obviously elicits a host of reactions. Sadness for my cousin who is letting go of something she knows and loves so much. But excitement for her as well. More college fun! More study time to focus her interests and just general downtime to be dumb.

And we can rest easy knowing that Car will stand up for herself in all types of relationships. A boss isn't treating her (or her co-workers right)? She will speak up. A boyfriend? Smell you later. A friend or family members? She'll be frank, but gentle.  And while she isn't playing competitive soccer any longer, these are no doubt qualities instilled in her over years focused on team work.

Throw in some high-fives all around on successful parenting!  Through my aunt's tears, I knew that this transition signified not only the end of a portion of their shared lives, but the transition of a child developing into adult. I imagine it's simultaneously thrilling and terrifying - as Walter said, "the bittersweet part of parenthood".

Even as a parent to a young child, you experience this range of emotions. Yesterday I picked up my son and his feet tapped my knees. I realized it's only a few years until he is too tall to pick up. And last night, to add salt the wound, a plaster hand-print made in the infant room when he was only six months old, crumbled in my hands. It sounds so silly, but I cried at the ephemerality of this whole thing which played itself out in that silly piece of plaster.

Maybe us sentimental folks always cry when we move from one phase of parenting to the next, or maybe my family is just full of freaks. Either way, I just hope young EK will turn out to be such a well-adjusted adult as his cousin (actually, cousins) and am grateful to be in such good company.

No one ever accused me of being rational. Click here to like Swirleytime on Facebook for interesting stories, links and a lot of self-deprecating humor. Follow me on twitter @swirleytime.

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    Annie Swingen

    Chicago-based hyperbole enthusiast. Mom to a kid and sometimes my mom. Overboard (1987) obsessed weirdo. I like the funnies in life.

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