Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Letting go as they grow

I had a nightmare the other night (well technically in the early hours of the morning as I'd been up most of the night with Violet.) So as I was saying, I had a morning-mare the other morning.

I dreamed we were in Singapore with my family and my brother took Cherry to a fair. When he came home he told me he'd lost her.

In that illogical dream-like way, a translucent Cherry was by my side as I searched frantically for her, high and low. We revisited the merry-go-round she'd been riding when she disappeared. It was smoky and still. There was no sign of my baby girl and nowhere she could have possibly gone. I turned to my brother. The ghostly Cherry at my side had gone.

When I woke up Cherry - actual Cherry - was bouncing by the side of my bed. I have never been so relieved to see her.

I thought about the dream on the way to pre-school this morning as Cherry barrelled along ahead of me on her little balance bike. In a typically dramatic way, letting go and the associated risks are clearly on my mind.

The invisible rope between my older daughter and I has turned into elastic. It's stretching.

For the last three years and six weeks I've been entirely content that my role in life is to, slowly, become surplus to my children's requirements. It's to hold them close until they are ready to go, and then it's to let them. It's to help them learn to live in the world, and then watch them as they go off and do just that.

I am already not without regrets. I wish I'd held Cherry closer, for longer, when she was a baby. Back then I felt the best way was to urge her towards independence and I hurried her out of my arms, off my breast and gave her a wooden truck to 'learn to walk' with, a dummy to replace the comfort of my breast.

Then in her second year I felt I needed to reattach and re-establish the bond we shared. I held her closer than ever. I never urged, never pushed, never suggested she climb the bigger climbing frame as she stayed, content, with the smaller one. I never told her she was a 'big girl now' when she asked to fall asleep in my arms, never chastised that 'that's just for babies' when she expressed a desire to latch on whilst her sister was breastfeeding.

I know that my role is to nurture the connection and closeness I have with my children and trust them to move towards independence when they feel they are ready. I no longer 'help' them physically or academically, they learn things in their own time. If they're stuck or feel unsafe, I will try and help them verbally rather than physically (safety permitting, of course).

If they can climb up somewhere, my theory is they are probably entirely capable of getting down.

I have put huge amounts of thought, time, research and effort into coming to the conclusion that the less I interfere with my children, the better. They learn by watching me, so I watch my own behaviour and actions carefully instead of hovering over theirs.

I trust my children.

And yet. And now.

Cherry is running ahead of me, laughing as she plays games of her own, as I walk along at Violet's excruciating pace. She's hurtling around on her bike. She's sat proudly atop a fat black Shetland pony.

She's a whirling ball of energy and excitement and new skills and physicality and she swings between cautious and fearless.

All of a sudden I am heart-in-mouth. I am the cautious Mummy I never thought I'd be. I am fighting the urge to bubble-wrap her. To unzip my skin and put her back inside my body, keep her safe always, where no harm can come to her.

Having always believed so strongly in letting my children GO as they grow, now I have to put my theories into practice. I have to watch Cherry fall, and hurt herself, and cuddle and comfort her without trying to take her pain away for her.

I have to hold back my urge to scream CAREFUL! 100 times a day.

It's harder than I thought it would be. Knowing that I completely believe in what I am doing is one thing, but having to watch it and feel it is entirely another. I've always said I am far from risk-averse, but few things actually test your theories about yourself like your children.

I have no issue in trusting her to carry a china plate across the room, a glass of water, or any other breakable/spillable items or objects. She's been chopping vegetables with me with my sharp knife for a fair while now. I barely blink when she pick up a pair of scissors.

But watching her run so far from my side feels like another step entirely.

I have to trust her, and trust myself that I have empowered and armed her with the confidence and capabilities she needs for me to to let her go.

I wonder if it's this last part I find hardest of all. Her growing up feels so sudden and so fast.

Have I done enough, or by my own definition not done enough?

At least I still get hold her close when she does come back, because she is after all, just three.

(Good reading on this subject is Letting Go as Children Grow by Deborah Jackson and this post by Lucy, which apparently caused huge controversy but to be honest it just read like common sense to me)

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