I used to laugh at those weird old people who push their tiny dogs in baby strollers. But I don’t anymore. I’ll get back to that later.
When I was pregnant with my first child, I took a birthing class (to learn how to breathe through labor), a nursing class (to learn the perfect latch) and a newborn class (to learn how to swaddle). I read every baby book on the planet, educating myself on it all—from colic to baby crap.
After 9 months of planning, preparing and prepping, my daughter arrived. As I held her tiny body in my arms and scanned that sweet scrunched-up face, I couldn’t believe this perfect angel (with a somewhat pointy head) belonged to me. After struggling with infertility for so long, it was a years-long dream come true. She’s all mine. Now and forever.
Back then, I assumed the first couple years would be the toughest. And they were tough. I still recall the back-to-back bouts of ear infections, the weird rashes that would pop up after giving her something new to eat and those panicky middle-of-the-night croup attacks. But I had my classes, my books, our pediatrician and Encyclopedia Googlica to help me sort most of it out.
Fast forward 13 years later. My daughter is an all-American, eye-rolling teenager and my son is turning 10 in days. The single digit years are in my rearview mirror. I’m happy to say that, for the most part, both my offspring are fairly self-sufficient, wildly caring and on-most-days respectful human beings that can pretty much do anything I reasonably ask of them (except keep their rooms clean, am I right?). But as I pack up the American Girl doll and the rookie league baseball glove to store in a box in the basement, I’m faced with something not indexed in any baby book or included in any class curriculum.
I bet you feel (or have felt) it, too. The gut punch of letting go.
Letting go of letters to Santa. Letting go of visits from the Tooth Fairy. Letting go of big family birthday parties. Letting go of the backyard playset. Letting go of clothing and beloved toys packed for Goodwill. Letting go of bedtime stories. Letting go of handholding in public. Letting go of your VIP pass to the enchanting world of childhood.
And saying hello to one-armed hugs, nonsensical group texts from friends, witty comebacks, marathon mirror inspections, school dances, competitive sports, real-deal homework and tests, and so much more.
For parents (and kids, I’m sure), it’s a strange and foreign land. An in-between place where you can feel like you’re floating adrift, with the magic of childhood behind you and the promise of adulthood on the horizon.
So how to cope with your kids growing up without losing your sh#t? I’m no expert but I’ve learned a few things along the way. I call it “The Subtle Art of Letting Go.” I say “subtle” because it’s something I’m learning to practice every day. And I say “art” because everyone has their own way of working through this process. This is mine. And I’m hoping that maybe there’s a nugget of truth to help you along, too. I give to you in my best Yoda voice…
6 Lessons from the Subtle Art of Letting Go
1. First and foremost, be grateful. Because tomorrow is never promised. It’s hard to be sad about the passing of days, months or years when you still have that person to love and hold. Not everyone has the luxury of being able to let go slowly. Like everyone in your life, even your kids are on loan. Be over-the-moon happy and grateful for every moment you get with them.
2. Celebrate and embrace each milestone of independence and achievement. I can’t help but feel utter happiness when I witness the amazing young woman my daughter is becoming. Or pride when I experience my son establishing his independence by making his own lunch or passionately arguing a point (even when he’s dead wrong.) Sure, you may have to remind me of this lesson in a few years when I’m taking their homecoming pictures or packing them up for college. ‘Cause I’m pretty sure I’ll be a hot mess.
3. Live in the now. I remember I couldn’t wait to get rid of those garish plastic toys with the songs I never thought I’d get out of my head. But today I’d do just about anything short of a felony to have one more snuggle with my baby or toddler. You think you’ll never forget how soft their curls are or how sweet their skin smells. But you do. So take a deep breath and slow down. Take in their funny cracked voices, secretly watch them as they pose in front of the mirror and really listen to them when they want to talk.
4. Get back to you. The sad (and happy) reality is that one day it’ll be just you (and your partner if you have one) again. Your kids will have families, jobs and responsibilities of their own. Take the extra free time thrown your way and get back into that exercise routine. Learn a second language or how to play guitar. Or, hell, start a blog! (Okay, so maybe this is my list, but I’m sure you have plenty of your own ideas). Being a parent changes your forever—I will always be “a mom.” This job has filled my soul like no other occupation has. But I know my life has continued purpose once this chapter closes. And you can bet I’ll have fun figuring out just what that is. Because I fear that if I don’t, I may end up trying to relive this season of my life with a tiny hairless Chihuahua and a Peg Perego stroller.
5. Be there when they need you. Don’t take it personally when they don’t. (I know, easier said than done!) Whether it’s advice on how to deal with the school jerk or a hug after their first breakup, you will always be someone who has their back. And deep down they know that.
6. Let yourself mourn. Sometimes a good bawl fest is all you need to move forward. This always seems to happen to me when a certain commercial or country song (“There Goes My Life” by Kenny Chesney gets me every time) comes on. Ugly cry it out. Even if it’s in the car (been there, done that). And if it helps, do it with a friend who gets it. Letting go is painful, plain and simple.
The best thing about the end of something? It’s always the beginning of something else. Most of the time, that’s a good thing. Let’s face it…they’re going to grow up whether we like it or not. Instead of curling into fetal position and wishing your way back to Neverland, face this exciting transition head on. I’m fairly certain doing so will make these years the happiest yet.