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Holding on While Letting Go

By Amy Meyers Steinberg

Being a mom is the hardest job in the world.  I don’t know anyone who would argue that point.  The Talmud teaches us that Jewish parents are obligated to provide a child with knowledge about values and morals, and a sense of shared history. It also says that we are obligated to teach our children to swim, not so much in a literal sense, but by providing the values and tools they need to make their own decisions and survive in this world.  A parent should teach a child the skills needed to stay afloat and protect oneself in what sometimes can be a difficult world.   So why then does it feel like I have been caught totally off-guard when my teenage daughter starts to swim and I am still trying to prevent her from sinking?

It hit me when she recently left on her 8th grade class trip to Israel; she is no longer the little girl who clings to mommy, but a young lady old enough to travel across the world without her parents in tow.  We have known about and planned for this trip for more than a decade. Yet, it was really hard for me to let her go.  It’s not like she is 18 and going off to college or even a semester abroad. Even though I knew she would be back in two weeks, I still felt like I was losing my baby. I want her to be independent, but the thought of not being able to protect her is quite terrifying.  And this is just the beginning as she starts high school in the fall and in a blink of an eye she will be off to college. As a minor child, she is still dependent on her parents.  I still have to meet her basic needs, drive her where she needs to go, etc. She cannot live independently, nevertheless she is becoming her own independent person.  So how does one balance holding on while letting go at the same time?

Social Worker Dorothy O’Keefe Diana says the beginning of your child’s high school years is the perfect time for parents to start letting go.   She warns that parents who hover can raise children with low self-esteem, poor coping skills, high anxiety or feelings of helplessness.  She says letting go is the best thing you can do for your teen, because that action automatically fosters independence.  Here are some of Ms. O’Keefe Diana’s suggestions for parents who are finding it tough to loosen their grip:

  • Recognize and then change your behavior. As your children grow, it’s important to let them start doing things for themselves.  Don’t fight all their battles.  Become an advisor and cheer them on from the sidelines.
  • Make room for failure. Greater responsibility means more opportunity for mistakes and more opportunity to learn from them.  Your kids need you to support and advise them, not fix everything for them.
  • Encourage a new kind of communication. It’s always important to talk to your kids, but instead of telling them what’s best, ask how they plan to handle things.  That approach will help guide them on a path to finding their own solutions.

Change wasn’t easy when you were entering high school, and it’s certainly no easier now that you are the parent.  But this is where your years of wisdom and experience come into play. Let them become independent. Let them make mistakes, but be there to guide and support them.  Be ready so that when they actually do “fly the coop,” you can be confident that what you have taught them will carry them forward.

My daughter’s trip to Israel was the perfect beginning to her new-found independence. And as a mom, if she’s okay, I’m okay.

Amy Meyers Steinberg is a Volunteer Coordinator for JCS Community Engagement.

Because children don’t come with an instruction manual, JCS offers a variety of programs, services, education and support for parents and families with children of all ages. Click here or call 410-466-9200 to learn more.

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