It has been said that childhood is a series of letting go. We should be able to trust in the process and see most young people really becoming able to care for themselves, their surroundings, articulate their goals and launch themselves into that celebration of independence and authenticity to themselves around the end of the high school years if not before. However, in order for that to actually happen, we need to impart our knowledge and wisdom to our children, embrace them for who they are and what path they are on (freedom of authenticity), let them make mistakes, be there to support and guide – but also get out of their way. You have lived your life. Now let them live theirs.
This may seem such a strange notion. After all, no one loves the idea of personal responsibility and independence than North Americans. We have built an entire culture around this idea of independence, and often I feel in our society push tiny children to become independent in hopes of reaching this functional adulthood sometime in the high school or college -aged years. Why would we need thoughts on letting our children make their own mistakes and handling that? Why wouldn’t everyone want their children to be their authentic selves and respect this in their child?
This seems so common sense, and yet, I see more and more parents having trouble letting go. They are tracking their children all over their college campuses with apps. They are stepping in and helping their child clean up mistakes that are no way the parent’s to hold. They say they respect their authentic child’s dreams, the different from them individuality of their child – except when it doesn’t coincide with the dreams they held for their child.
I think we often forget several things along the way:
Our life and our ideas of what constitutes a satisfactory life are not their life and ideas.
Sometimes in order to find ourselves, we had to leave our family for a little bit. Again, maybe this a completely Western idea, but I often think of myself. I would have been a totally different person if I hadn’t left my home state and had the life experiences I have had. For some people, maybe it’s about not pursuing the family business or marrying who our family thought we should marry or whatever the situation is. Often it takes a little time being away from the family in order to find oneself as an individual without the family impression of who we are being our only self-picture.
And we often forget sort of the opposite thing in a rush to actualize the real and authentic self as a young person: that we need others and that what we do has a ripple effect through us, our family and friends, our community. We are all connected, and family is often (not always) a connection.
I think part of learning how to do this begins right in education and in parenting – showing our children over and over how important the details are but how we also need to be able to see the big picture and the connections that span across people, communities, fields of study. In the end, we need to impart wisdom, let go, let our children find their very authentic selves, and feel safe in their identity.
Children, teens, and young adults need acceptance and a safe harbor to paddle back to. But the reality is, if we are paving a gentle path for them, if we are not letting them go, if we persist in putting them in the same category they were when they were 12 and now they are 24, we are doing them a disservice. Embrace the beauty of your authentic, growing, changing, beautiful child growing up and living their own functional life. It’s their turn.
Blessings and love,