Letting Go: The Mirror Image of Breaking Away

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Breaking away
30 Mar 2007

The Darvick household is knee deep in breaking away. “Do you realize, Mom,” Emma said one day as we drove to school, “that soon you will have two teenagers, and then you will have two kids in high school?”

Realize it? What else have I been consumed with for the past eighteen months but that fact? It has kept me awake some nights that in a scant five years both kids will be in college, liberating me from an endeavor that has consumed me for my entire adult life. Half of me is stunned at the speed at which my kids are growing up. The other half occasionally flirts with how cool unfetteredness could be! Letting go and holding on is a maddening and exhilarating dance that I imagine we will be doing for some time to come.

A friend of mine recently told each of her children, “I am emancipating you. You are your own person, responsible for your own life.” My friend came to terms with the reality that her children’s lives were out of her control. She had also reached a point where she no longer wanted that control, anyway. Sure she will still support her daughter through med school and she was by no means abandoning her fifteen year old, but she realized that so much of their lives was truly beyond her grasp — whether they studied or not, who they dated, where they ultimately chose to live and with whom. She said that emancipating them brought her a sense of calm. In essence she was also emancipating herself from the distracting anxiety that comes from inserting herself where she didn’t belong.

Parenting teens is like playing hokey pokey, knowing when to put your whole self in and when to get your whole self the heck out of the way. Thankfully, adolescence is full of such opportunities. When my son returned from a student trip to Washington DC a few weeks ago, I suggested that it would be a mentschy thing to write thank you notes to the mom and teacher who chaperoned the trip. He agreed and said he would. Emancipated parent would have left it there. Not yours truly.

I reminded/nagged (take your pick depending on your perspective!) my son until he wrote the notes in a snit. We could have done without the acrimony caused by my putting my whole self where it didn’t need to be. Elliot would have written the notes without my intrusion. But I’ll never know for sure. And neither will he. I am still learning to liberate myself from standards of perfection, from the anxiety I have if I think they haven’t studied enough or prepared properly. Would the world have come to an end if the thank you notes never got written? No. And if they hadn’t, it would have been my son’s oversight, not mine.

Last fall I was accepted for a three-week residency at a writer’s colony in a neighboring state. Yup. I packed up and left my family behind for 21 days. It was incredible to devote myself to a project without the constant distractions of home, work and family. But what was just as great was that my kids were free of me, too. They worked out their own routines with my husband, got themselves up and out the door in record time each morning, cooked dinner (or called Domino’s), did the laundry. It was all up to them and they did fine. So fine in fact that when I returned and began to reassert myself my son said, “Mom when you were gone, we handled it.” That’s what we really want — for our kids to handle it whether “it” is homework or chores, or steering clear of kids who want them to drink or use drugs. And they can’t handle their lives if we don’t let go. (Of course my children gladly let me handle the cooking and laundry again!)

Passover is a letting go story of mythic proportions. We devote the Seder to discussing slavery and how fervently the Hebrews of ancient Egypt cried out to be free. But what did they do moments after liberation? They begged to return to the certainty of life in Egypt! How terrifying for our kids to realize they have to live with their own decisions, the aftermath of their own actions. And how exciting, too. In the end, what I truly want for my kids is what God wanted for the Children of Israel — to go forth, to follow the lessons they have been taught, no matter how imperfectly. And deep down I know that what I want for myself, what I know I must do if I am ultimately to mature as a parent, is to let my children go.

The aforementioned state of unfetteredness has now come to roost in our empty nest. Our kids are launched — Elliot to his first post-college job in Chicago; Emma to her sophomore year of college. I realize now that what we must do as parents is not to let go of our children, but to let go of the notion that they cannot manage without us. Once we can do that, what opens before us is the delight (and chagrin) of watching them lead their own lives and the satisfaction of leading our own.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.