Parenthood and Letting Go

August 10th, 2010



I find myself reflective as I prepare to send my oldest son off to College.  How do you say goodbye to your own flesh and blood and send them out into the big bad world?

My mind wanders through eighteen years of intimate connection. No wonder it’s hard to let go.

I took my minor role in his birth very seriously. Not sure exactly what I could do to help the situation, I whispered calm thoughts about breathing until Meg reached out and pulled me close in a headlock. She squeezed tight and didn’t let go for 12 hours. I could neither breathe, nor speak. That seemed better for both of us. Two weeks later in the chiropractor’s office, I reflected on the experience.

I had the honor of cutting the cord. Now that was a heart stopping thing to do. It was hard to believe the nurse who said that it wouldn’t hurt either mother or child. I mean it was part of both of them. How could it not hurt? It made me a little squeamish. I asked if we could just leave them attached. From the moment that cord was cut, I began learning the delicate balance between holding on and letting go.

Words can’t accurately describe the elation of partnering the creation of new life. It gave me some small insight into some of the mysteries of life including a profound appreciation for the Source of Life, by any name. It also began preparing me to send him off to College as a giant stride towards independence for father and son.

I am connected to my son at a cellular level and that puts everything in perspective. I can let go knowing that neither distance nor time can change the bond we have. I am related at the most intimate level, and letting go will always be relative. We are connected no matter what.

As I practice letting go of my son, I learn something profound about the nature of life. It’s a constant push and pull with attachment. You know what I’m talking about. Your five year old son wants to use the restroom by himself for the first time. You stand at the door talking to him the whole time. Your thirteen year old daughter wants to go on her first date alone with a boy. She’s getting embarrassed about being seen in public with her parents. You are torn between her desire for independence and your understanding of sixteen year old boys. So you send her off with a cell phone GPS tracker and wait by the front door in a rocking chair. Your eighteen year old son wants to join the military. Your twenty year old daughter wants to get married. Your adult children want to move across the other side of the world, taking your grandchildren with them. Now you see why you need to practice this whole letting go business. You have to prepare yourself for life’s big surrenders.

It’s hard, but the alternative is much harder. The freedom of letting go is that you feel lighter, you move more easily, you have less baggage and you discover that most of what you let go comes back to you in some other form anyway if you are open. I will let go of my son and he will come back  a different person. He continues his journey towards independence, and so do I.

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  1. Delightful insights to the fragility and strength of parenting – a love that will not let go, of either of you, no matter what, even when it sometimes seems that all might be lost.  Reminds me of waving goodbye to Jess when she went to play cricket in Holland when she was 18.  I cried for a week.  But yes, some months later she came back a different person, and so was I.  And we still love each other.

  2. Erwin Matthews says:

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    As I read your words this morning the image of the thistle down floating free on your “Seeds” logo came to mind. In a few short years you will be able to empathise with your son as his turn comes to release the next generation.

  3. Uncle Nigel says:

    Don’t worry Ian and Meg, we’ll take good care of “little” Hugo.  The shock of the new will be tempered by the comforts of another home.

  4. Saishia says:

    “The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them.” Thomas Merton!

  5. ian says:

    Thanks for the comments. Sande, you are a great inspiration for healthy parenting. Erwin, it sounds like you are speaking from wise experience. Nigel, we are so grateful for you making this trip possible. Thank you. And Saishia, I LOVE the quote. You made my night with that.

  6. Iris says:

    hi Ian,
    When my son left for UK, I wrote an article entitled, ” Another Bird leaves the Nest”  but the papers changed the title to “Flight to Fortune”!  I compared the days when Indians went abroad by ship, 18 days on the high seas, and today when a flight , even to the USA, is a mere 14 hrs non-stop.
    When my sister went to UK in, 1958 ,my father stood waving to her till the  huge ocean liner  turned to a dot on the horizon! Now when my son left the  armed security men wanted me out of the way and the cold steel gates shut him out of sight. I hardly knew what was happening , just that  I would not   see him again for  2 years.
    No one felt what I was feeling then.
    Now 4 years later , he has married and has left home again! Does it ever end? Do we ever learn to let go without feeling oh so hurt! It’s hard. But thanks for trying to encapsulate these very subtle feelings.
    Iris  trying to enjoy the feeling  of more space and more time, but yet……

  7. michael says:

    Hello Ian!

    Thank you for your article(s). 

    As always, they inspire, dig, and invite reflection in the process of “my” life and how “I” see the world.  Your article on parent hood and letting go was quite poignant for me; as a single gay man, I do not think it will be in the cards to experience the opportunity of raising a family in any traditional sense of the words. 
    In spite of the angst at having to let go, your words and the deep level of feelings conveyed, your article allowed me to momentarily step into a set of shoes that I will never ware.  They reminded me that within that potential, momentary, angst that results from making a significant life choice and commitment, there also lies a potential joy, meaning and love that raising a family can provide. 
    Thank you for sharing your experience so authentically, may you and your family be “blessed” with continued experiences of joy and love.  Thank you for the courageous risks you continue to take, in breaking down the barriers of conventional thinking that so often limit the expression of love and compassion that can be present when allowed, within the minds and hearts of all Beings…

  8. ian says:

    I LOVE shared human wisdom. We ALL bring pieces of the puzzle. Iris, your son has experienced travel and cultures beyond my understanding. Your insight is profound. And Michael you have given birth to many dreams and ideals. With or without kids, we all learn the challenge, the wisdom and the growth of letting go. Your authenticity is also an inspiration to me. Thank you

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  11. maria andros says:

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