From Roots to Wings: The Bittersweet Transition to Independence

Being a mother is hard, really hard. We all have our own personal challenges, our own Achilles heel, our own triumphs and “feel good” moments. I’ve been reflecting hugely this weekend – mostly because I’ve been super poorly with a throat and ear infection and have spent the past 2 days on the periphery in my household looking in on my children and husband – coping well – without me.

My life was turned upside down nearly 10yrs ago when I became a mother for the first time and now, just after I regained an even keel, I feel as if I am being somersaulted into unknown stormy seas again only this time I’m not sure if I can be selfless enough to do what I know I must – stand  back and let my children go, let them break away from me and go out into the world alone.

My 9yr old asked me on Friday if he could walk home alone from school, I immediately said “no”, we live a mile from school and he’s so young, but then I thought more – why did I automatically say “no”? he’s very sensible and actually I know he’s perfectly capable of the journey by himself and statistically speaking children are *more* at risk of a road accident the *older* they get  – 11yr olds are TWICE AS LIKELY as a 10yr old to be run over and less than 20% of RTAs happen on the school run (source) – this says to me that parents think it’s safe to let their secondary school child walk to school alone, but not their junior school aged child, much like myself – yet if we don’t give children freedom and trust them from a young age why do we expect them to suddenly be “grown up” enough after they have blown out the candles on their 11th birthday cake? No – it seems the problem is mine, my expectations and ideas and here is where it gets hard to trust your instinct as a mother.

When my children were babies and toddlers my instincts screamed at me to keep them close, they still do now – but whilst that may have been appropriate, necessary even for life with a very young child I’m beginning to trust my instincts less as they grow – for my instincts still tell me to keep the children close to ”protect them from harm” yet  I know that by not letting them experience the world – for which they are ready – I may well be holding them back and damaging whatever good I did at the start by fostering a strong attachment. The world just seems such a big scary place now – paedophiles around every corner, cyber stalking & grooming – only when you look at the statistics you realise our children are no more at risk than we were, we just perceive their childhood to be “more dangerous” and we reign in their freedom as a result. Professor Tanya Byron has spoken widely about the “captivity” we hold our children in and the fear of the effect it will have upon their lives. “We live in an increasingly risk-averse culture, where many children’s behaviour is constrained. We raise them and educate them “in captivity” because of our anxieties. We are continually hypervigilant, as our anxieties are fuelled by stories and images of violent and aggressive crimes. And then we label children as troublemakers or failures because, as a society, we often fail to see their potential.”

It’s not only concerns about letting my 9yr old out to play or to walk to school on his own though, it’s the stopping breastfeeding after feeding non-stop for 9yrs (for 4 children!), the bed devoid of small octopus limbs, the buggy in the skip, the 4yr old making her own glass of squash and the 9yr old making his own cup of tea and then this morning all four of them playing in the garden together – having made themselves breakfast whilst I was poorly in bed and my husband was attacking our triffid leilandii with a chainsaw (so loud I doubt he knew the kids had joined him in the garden). I awoke this morning to find all of them together, playing  a game of pool, self sufficient and so very happy playing together (it doesn’t always happen I promise – we have yet to solve the problem of sibling rivalry!). Nobody knew I was in the kitchen for a whole hour, nobody called “mummeeee”, nobody clung to my leg when I had a wee, nobody stole my toast or asked me 1001 questions I was too sleep hungover to answer. It was the moment I had dreamed of for years – and now it’s here I’m not sure I like it! I like how confident they are, how happy they are away from me and it makes me smile, but it makes me sad too. I’m not ready to let go, even though they are.

“We need in love to practice only this:  letting each other go.
For holding on comes easily–we do not need to learn it.” … 
Rainer Marie Rilker.

Looking back I realise there were many occasions when I had  convinced myself that they needed me more than they  did really – the not leaving them with anybody else as they “weren’t ready”, the not going away for the night without them as they “wouldn’t sleep without me”, the delaying of increasing hours at preschool because they needed to “be at home with me” – they were my issues, not theirs. On every single one of the above occasions the opposite was true, they thrived without me – and on every single one of those occasions it was *me* and not the child that was not ready to let go. This is an important point, particularly when attachment parenting has guided the first few years. When is the right time to let go? when is it right for the child or for the parent? or both? is that possible? is there a synchronicity in need of attachment and detachment? I’m not so sure, for me I don’t think there has been and can you ever be “too attached” to your child? does this attachment perhaps say more about ourselves and our own needs than that of our children? being truly baby and child led means we must follow their needs for independence as well as dependence. Or as the great quote says “There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these is roots, the other, wings.” (Hodding Carter, journalist and politician).

………but my word is it hard, just as we begin to find our place in life, so it changes again, it’s so much easier to grow roots than to give wings.

There are things that we never want to let go of, people we never want to leave behind. But keep in mind that letting go isn’t the end of the world; it’s the beginning of a new life.”  unknown.


About SarahOckwell-Smith

Sarah Ockwell-Smith, Parenting author and mother to four.
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