By: Guest Blogger, Dr. Vicki Whiting, Ph.D.
“Tyrie won’t play, Mom. She won’t eat. She’s shaking. What do I do, Mom?” My son, Kevin, called late last night. His emotional-support animal, living with him in his college dorm, had gotten her third round of vaccines, and wasn’t responding well. My heart swelled with sympathy for Kevin. It’s hard to see your “baby” suffer. Should he call the vet? Bring her to after-hours care? Wait it out?
The fear, the concern, the uncertainty Kevin felt was familiar. “Tyrie’s body is responding to the vaccines,” I assured him as I thought back on the countless times I felt the pattern of fear, concern, and uncertainty throughout my years as a Mom to three kids. Each time my kids were suffering I had to decide whether to hold on and take control, or let go. Over the years holding on was the easy path. “Mommy knows best.” My first instinct was to rush in, take control of the situation and make things right for my kids.
Letting go was the hard part. Letting go of my toddler’s hand as he took his first wobbly steps, knowing a fall was imminent. Letting go of my son to the arms of his kindergarten teacher, realizing he would cry for the next two hours. Letting go of my daughter to allow her to be accountable when the police showed up at the door about a parked car she had accidentally dinged when exiting a parking lot.
Being a Mom mans an endless stream of learning to let go to let my kids soar. But it isn’t always right to let go. Sometimes it’s necessary to hold on. I’ve held on as an advocate when my son Kevin was gravely ill and the doctors weren’t listening to him. I’ve held on to support my son Phillip when he was in the wrong classroom environment for his learning in elementary school. I’ve held on when Katie experienced bullying in middle school and needed a support system to handle emotional and practical resolution.
Perhaps the hardest part for me over my decades as a Mom is knowing when to let go and when to hold on. My son refused to go to school in fourth grade. His teacher was awful, he told me, and he wanted to change classes. Do I let go? Let him work through his difficulties with his teacher? When my daughter side swiped a car in a parking lot and didn’t stop to leave contact information, do I let her go deal with the police? For my son I held on, for my daughter I let go.
Bad teachers, mean classmates, poor grades, wrong choices, unfortunate events – when is it right to swoop in and advocate, and when is it best to let go? It would be nice if there was a perfect let go / hold on reference guide designed for each of my kids and each situation they would face along their life journey. Unfortunately, there are too many variables to consider, and there isn’t a clear right or wrong answer. To help me make my decision between letting go and holding on, I developed a checklist of sorts to guide my hold on / let go choice:
- Could death or dismemberment result? If yes, advocate or save. Broken bones and stiches? Let go. I had to let go of each of my kid’s hand when they were just learning to walk, fully aware that they would bump their heads along the way.
- Would valuable life lessons result by letting go? If letting go meant a life lesson on taking responsibility for a mistake such as sideswiping a car, I needed to let go.
- Did my child have the skills and maturity to handle the situation on their own? Interactions with teachers in high school, let go. Interactions with teachers in elementary school, hold on.
- Would my involvement serve as an example so that in the future my kids could handle the situation on their own? I held on to show my daughter how to respond to the bullying when informing the school administrators. This allowed me let go as my daughter learned and grew in confidence as her own advocate.
I wish it got easier over time, this knowing when to let go and when to hold on. I wish there were less people telling me whether I should hold on or let go, and more people encouraging me to listen to my Mommy-heart. When I listen to my Mommy-instinct, and think through the specific situation, I seem to make the right choice more often than not. My kids have grown up into marvelous adults thanks in part to my careful balance of letting go and holding.
The one lesson I wish every new Mom was taught is that they and they alone are the best person to know when to let go and when to hold on. Untold books, blogs, and well meaning aunts and friends are there to tell Moms how to get their baby to sleep through the night, to get your toddler to read before kindergarten, to excel in Primary School, to get into the best colleges, and choose the right career. Some of these are great guides to consider. Wise, experienced loved ones are invaluable Mom mentors. Take in the ideas you read and hear. In the end, though, trust your Mommy –heart to tell you whether it is best to let-go or hold-on.
Trust that instinct, because none of those books or people know your child the way you do. Think about your child, the situation, the risks, the benefits, and then choose what is best for your child in that particular situation. Do you hold on or let go to a newborn crying in his bassinet, a child suffering from separation anxiety, an adolescent struggling in a difficult classroom, a teenager having a difficult conversation with an authority figure, or your child, at any point in their life, advocating on their own behalf. Listen to your Mommy-voice, it will whisper to you whether you should hold-on or let-go.
If it is telling you to let-go, no matter how fiercely you want to hold-on to make things right (because we Moms are excellent at making things right!) you must let go.
Last week I let go of my baby at college. With all of my kids out of the house, I was afraid that my phase of deciding when to let go and when to hold on was over. How wonderful that my son called me in the middle of the night to help him decide whether to let go and let Tyrie work through the side-effects from her vaccines, or to hold on and rush her to the vet. It was good to know that as young adults, I get to help my kids learn the let go / hold on lesson. And even better, that my adult children still face issues where they want me to hold on.