Letting Go, Slowly

When my oldest son was a baby, we had a naming ceremony for him. Each person who came to the ceremony was asked to bring a token-sized gift and a blessing that it represented. It was very fairy-tale, but without any angry fairies, and he was blessed indeed. I remember most vividly a tiny Han Solo for adventure, a walnut for the ability to see through to the meat of the matter, and a pen for the love of writing. His father and I gave him a paper mâché carrot and a butterfly pin; they represented a promise for roots and wings.

It seems appropriate now, that the carrot is so much bigger than the butterfly.

This is the commitment that I made when I became a mother: that I would provide this container of family and home for my child to grow in so that he would eventually be able to fly off on his own.

At the time it was so abstract, so far in the future, so easy to say. He was tiny, and it was all about breastfeeding, and carrying him, and language, and first steps. Surely growing up and leaving would take forever? It wasn’t for now. It was for later.

Here is what I’ve learned: Later is now. The entire thing, moving from breastfeeding, to feeding, to teaching him to cook, to teaching him to meal plan, to teaching him to grocery shop has been one long process of letting go, of helping him grow these wings so that he can eventually leave me, strong, healthy, and capable.

Sometime in the last few months, I realized that he has already lived with us more than half the time he is likely to. We still read bedtime stories, and we still snuggle for at least a few minutes at a time, once in a while, but we’ve definitely moved towards the wings end of the spectrum. It makes me so happy that we put the initial effort into the roots side of things, because I can’t imagine letting go without having first held this tightly. It makes this release easier: all that time worrying about breastfeeding and babywearing and co-sleeping and gentle parenting and minding my language (even if I never quite got it right). Getting to see this lovely person he is constantly becoming reminds me of why it mattered in the first place. It makes it feel like we’ve both really been here.

Photo credit: Author

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Seonaid Lee is a mother of three kids from 3 to 11 years of age, who lives an increasingly rural life in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. She writes about raising children, chickens, bees, and herself at The Practical Dilettante. She still calls her Mom for advice.

13 Responses to Letting Go, Slowly

  1. Amy  

    Thank you, Seonaid. :) My oldest is 10 and I have many similar sentiments.

  2. Momma Jorje

    What a beautiful representation! So then you still have all the tokens? Do you keep them in a special box or something?

    With a 12yo and a 1yo… I can relate, living both ends of the spectrum at once.

    • Seonaid  

      We still have them; they are in the gift bag we put them in at the ceremony. I had always been planning to hand them over to him as some sort of coming-of-age, maybe at his 12th birthday. I had a lovely time going through them while writing this post.

  3. Jenn Collins @ Monkey Butt Junction  

    That was beautiful, so beautiful. My son is only 15 months and I get weepy about him growing up already, but your post really puts things into perspective. I’m so glad we hold on so tight now so that he has this strong, secure foundation on which to build his own life.
    Beautiful post.

    • Seonaid  

      Thank you. It can be tempting to keep holding on. Sometimes I want to snuggle him, but it’s a very rare event these days, and I needed to find a way not to be hurt by that. It is right for him to grow away from me; that’s the point of all of this.

      This process (that I’m talking about in this post) is more about me growing up as a parent, so that I can be the mother he needs at each stage of the game… so that I can learn to let him make more decisions (and mistakes). I don’t want to be the one who tells my kids what school to go to and what to study, although I’d like to be the one that they trust well enough to ask for help on such big decisions. And I certainly don’t want to be the mother who is still using guilt to attempt to control her children’s lives when they are in their 30’s! (Not that I think there’s actually much risk of that.)

      I think of this Natural Parenting thing as a continuum, as a special kind of relationship between two human beings. (I have other kids, but let’s do this one relationship at a time.) I can give him the base to grow from, and not interfere with the development of his wings, but I can’t control the outcome. All I can do is be conscious about the decisions that I’m making, and not overburden this particular relationship.

      And I’m going to stop now, before the comment winds up longer than the original post.

      • Jenn Collins @ Monkey Butt Junction  

        I think the natural parenting relationship is a very dynamic thing. I know that I have grown and changed as my son has. For me, that also makes it tempting to look back and become critical of the early parts of our relationship but I have to remind myself that hindsight is 20/20, and so long as I learn and grow, the process itself is a good one.

      • Seonaid  

        @Jenn Let’s see – it’s the biggest job that we’ve got, we’re learning on the job, we’re all amateurs, and nobody is entirely clear what the goals are… we’re bound to have some “regrets” (or however you experience that 20/20 hindsight). It’s the process.

        Actually, I saw a comment on this post on somebody else’s Facebook wall where she said, “Her son’s only 12. She doesn’t know anything about letting go.” And I thought… Really? We can’t know anything about parenting until we aren’t doing it any more? I didn’t say this wasn’t going to get more difficult; I just said that I think of my life as a parent as being a preparation for that separation. Anyway, here I am making another GIANT comment. Bye!

  4. Kat

    Beautiful!
    I always love reading pieces that put into words the way I feel.

    Thank You!

  5. Rachael  

    I’ve been weeping, on occasion, about the necessity of letting go since the Critter was just days old. But, as my teacher reminded me, it is in his nature to grow. I wouldn’t want him not to grow, right?

    I’ve been reading Pema Chodron these days, and she talks about “unconditioned sadness,” the “genuine heart of sadness.” Oh, and doesn’t a mama know.

  6. melissa aka equidae

    what a lovely post. it puts things in perspective to me. thank you for such a gentle reminder

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