I remember a point in time when I couldn’t care less about learning how to let go of my child. It wasn’t even a thought. Instead, I spent countless hours worrying about my son, Donovan. One of my lasting worries was that he would fall down the stairs. I read blog after blog searching for the perfect baby gate, but it wasn’t a baby gate that eased my fears.
It was my grandma.
She told me over breakfast that she didn’t bother with baby gates with her children. She just taught them how to safely use the stairs. And when the kids escaped her grasp to reach for higher heights, they were safe.
I realized then, letting go of my child was essential.
It was how my grandma protected her children. And my mom — the woman who would let me walk to the library with my friends after school but secretly follow us in her car — taught me that letting go wasn’t easy. It takes practice.
So these days, I’m practicing. I’m practicing how to let my child fall, how to teach him to get back up and how to protect himself.
I’m practicing how to let go of my child in these ways:
I let him lead the way.
My baby loves to explore. He wants to touch every car he passes, pick up the pine cones packed in mud and walk up and down entrance ramps until he masters them. One day at a local park, I noticed I was spending most our time trying to redirect him to experiences I wanted him to have. I picked him up and sat him on top of a slide. I plopped him in a swing. I even held him up to the monkey bars. Not only was it exhausting, it was limiting. Sure, Donovan enjoyed the experiences I forced him to have, but they weren’t truly his. They were mine. Now, I try to let Donovan lead the way as much as possible. Wide, open spaces are our friends. And even in crowded areas, I try to let Donovan lead the way. I rest a hand on his head, so I don’t lose track of him and let him lead.
I teach instead of saying no all the time.
No matter how open and hands-off of a parent I can condition myself to become. I still would rather Donovan complete some tasks with hands-on, full adult supervision. I don’t want him climbing the stairs by himself or opening and closing doors alone. But he seems to have another plan in mind. He lives to wiggle out of grasp and do the most dangerous tasks his little mind can think up. So I had to come up with a way of letting him explore and still keeping him safe.
Instead of replaying the seemingly endless no machine, I started showing him how to open and close doors safely. I said: “Don’t put your fingers here. See, that hurts. Put your fingers here.”
I took the same approach with the stairs. We practiced going up and down them more times than I could count. One of us, of course, enjoyed the practice more than the other, but in both scenarios, Donovan learned how to safely accomplish his favorite tasks without me.
Teach. Practice. Learn, and let go. It’s my new system. I wish I could call it groundbreaking, but it’s hardly innovative. I’m just changing the way I approach parenting.
I embrace my role as my son’s guide.
I’m not the star player. I’m the coach. So I’m practicing being more present and less controlling. That means I watch my son more closely, follow behind him more closely and monitor our surroundings more closely. But I also try not to intervene unless necessary to keep Donovan safe.
Understanding the difference is essential.
There will come a point in time when my son will have to use what his village taught him to survive in the real world. My arms, while always open for him, won’t always be able to catch him when he falls. But I can prepare him, show him how to heal when he falls and sometimes, how to avoid falling in the first place.