To me, one of the most painful times as a parent is when your toddler says, “I can do it myself!” Those words have stopped many a parent in their tracks, mouths agape, silently screaming, “No! Not Yet!” It is a downward slope from that moment to “I need the car tonight,” and it seems as though that time flies by in the blink of an eye.
I thought about this notion of letting children fly this week, as I remembered the distress of my son and daughter-in-law when my grandson was in first grade. There were real tears! My heart felt for them, as it would for every parent who has experienced the same parental trauma of a child ready to test their wings.
It was Jadon’s first week at school as a first-grader, and he insisted that both of his parents join him in the classroom, which was allowed at his more progressive school. He made sure that they did not sneak out early on him, keeping a close eye on them when he was not playing with his new classmates. But, as the day progressed and friendships were made, Jadon looked at them less and less. By the end of the day, I think he was surprised that they were still there!
For the next few days, Jadon wanted his parents to walk him all the way to his classroom, but not come in. Then, the fateful day came when Jadon did not want his parents to get out of the car. He told those two startled faces that he could walk to his class by himself, and he started to run off to join his friends. His father stopped him, telling him that a parent needed to escort him to the door. So, Jadon allowed his father to do that, not needing them both for so simple a task. My daughter-in-law related that the tears started, for she realized at that moment that her baby boy was growing up, and it was too fast for her.
I explained that this is the natural cycle of the universe. We prepare our children to fly, and the day comes when we have to release them from our clinging hands and let them soar. She said that she was not ready, and I explained that most parents aren’t ever ready. But, I reminded her this was just the first of many heartaches over children seeking independence and parents trying to hold on to their little child, albeit to protect them.
I advised her that Jadon’s independent streak was a necessary step in his growth and development, and, although it hurts, we have to learn to let them take risks as they learn to fly, being available, but not clinging so tight that the child never feels confident of their own abilities. I knew that it was important, having taught young people whose parents insisted on never letting them make decisions, such as a student who talked to her mother every day about nearly every decision. It is not healthy for parent or child.
I once met with a student in the library at the university to help her with a final paper. As we worked on her paper, her phone kept ringing, and she kept not answering it, which I appreciated. Well, about an hour into our work session, I watched a woman pass us who looked so distressed that I just knew that something bad had happened.
The student jumped up and ran after the woman. I did not know what was going on, until she brought the lady to our table and introduced her as her mother. The mother looked at me with such anxiety and fear, and she said to me, “She did not answer her phone! She did not answer her phone!”
I really thought that the mother was going to have a stroke, as she was flushed and overwrought to the point of illness. Once they had talked, the mother left. She had driven over 60 miles to the university to find her child, so convinced that the young lady could not take care of herself. Because the student was three weeks from graduation, my first thought was, “What will you do when she graduates and leaves?”
The student apologized for the interruption, asserting that she should have answered the phone, for she should have realized that not answering would freak her mother out and cause her tremendous grief. I asked her what were her plans, and how will her mother cope when she leaves home. She told me that her mother was pushing her to marry someone of the mother’s choice (the student was a first-generation American) and stay near her, just as her older sister had agreed to do. The student had no idea what she was going to do, caught between her love for and sense of responsibility to her mother and her own desires to fly away and find her own path.
I told her that no one could make the decisions for her, and that parents are to be appreciated for the sacrifices they make, but there comes a time when parents have to let go and let their children be free to take charge of their own lives. If blessed to have parents who are always there for us, ready to help us, we do owe them a debt that is impossible to ever repay. But, they have an obligation to let their children soar, without laying guilt trips that damage each of their potentialities. She listened, but I do not know what her final decision was, except that she did not want to get married.
Psalm 127:3-4 states, “Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth.” As every good archer knows, once you send the arrow flying, you have to trust that the preparation given and the time spent in training will mean that the arrow hits the target, but the archer does not run along side of the arrow trying to control and guide it, because then they will both miss the mark.
So, parents of toddlers, parents of twenty-somethings and thirty-somethings, and, yes, even forty-somethings, let your children go and let them soar. If you have given them the right values, norms, moral and ethical training, and knowledge of the power of God, they are ready to fly away and become the people that God created them to be, fulfilling His plans for their lives. They will have ups and downs, and they may need help at some point. Be available to help, but don’t do it for them. Help them, but don’t hurt their beautiful wings!