If you visualise a mother going through the heart wrenching process of letting go of her children as they ‘fly the nest’, the classic image is her waving them off to university, leaving home for the first time, going travelling or perhaps the day her child leaves to get married (although, granted that is quite an old fashioned image nowadays right?).
But in truth, learning to let your children break free from under your maternal wing happens much sooner than that, doesn’t it? It’s one of the biggest ironies of parenthood; the constant craving of a break and your own space versus the absolute heartbreak you feel leaving your child in a situation you do not feel 100% ready for.
That overwhelming need to protect your children kicks in for most of us pretty instantly. I’ll never forget feeling unable to turn the light off that first night we brought our first born daughter home, because I couldn’t fathom going to sleep and not being able to see her. And little did I know it, but that was the very first time of many I would struggle to let my firm grip on my daughter go.
Just weeks later, well, six to be precise, we were offered a couple of hours ‘respite’ by my Mum, who suggested we go for a walk or an early tea at a very local chain eatery and leave our daughter in her safe hands. Physically, we went, but mentally of course, we never really left her at all.
Every step of the way of the five years since then, there have been times I, or we, have had to rationalise the decision to let our children spread their wings and flourish on their own. Returning to work and leaving our eldest with grandparents initially, then a step to a childminder, then a nursery, then five days a week of pre-school, and most recently school.
Along the way there have been less straightforward situations; Which babysitters do we feel comfortable leaving our children with? Could we leave them for a weekend – perhaps if they were with the other parent? Overnight, with another family member or trusted friend? Would we use a creche at a gym? A holiday club whilst abroad? When is the right time to leave them alone at a party? Or at an after school club?
F I E L D S O F G O L D | So apparently even after a full on day of park play, in the summer you’re never too tired for an after dinner, pre bedtime run through the fields. Seizing our last bit of sunshine (and energy) yesterday made for the perfect ending to a pretty awesome day. 🌾🌾🌾 . . . . . . . . . #coolmumclub #thismamaloves #mummyshot #ukparentbloggers #myhappycapture #livingfearlesslyauthentic #pinklinker #totsphoto #snaphappybritmums #lionessmama #rockingmummylife #mydarlingmemory #funseekingkids #childofig #instamum #littlefierceones #outdoorsandfree #chasingnature #happylittlebuttons #whatevertheweather #rememberingthesedays #capturingtheday #perfectandproud #bestofmom #candidchildhood #theeverydayproject #photosinbetween #thesearethedays #inspiremyinstagram
I like to think in the continuum of attached parents, we lay somewhere in the middle. We certainly aren’t shy of a bit of us time and thanks to some wonderful friends and family we haven’t ever had to look too far to find a responsible and willing babysitter. That said, we haven’t both been away from the kids for any extended periods together, and we don’t take it lightly when we accept an invitation, knowing we don’t want to take any liberties when it comes to the childcare, each other, or our precious family time. (Also who wants to be hungover with kids too often anyway?). We’re probably on team ‘no kids club on holiday’ and we probably are a bit uptight when it comes to our kids welfare…but there are worst things I could think of being labelled with.
Of course there are always so many elements to consider, and clearly we all have our boundaries set at different places. Just as each child is unique, so is each parents stance on any given situation and we should respect each others approach if it works for them. Provided it is safe, and the children’s welfare is all okay that is – I’m not saying we should turn a blind eye to the kids being left in the house while Mum nips out to Tescos.
Whilst some of us are waving goodbye to the kids and the babysitter, skipping to the pub singing to the sound of sweet freedom, to other parents it’s just unfathomable to leave their kids in someone else’s hands, for whatever reason. We all have different approaches, and what’s right for one isn’t necessarily right for another.
As our children grow and reach developmental milestones, clearly the boundaries change with them. We left our daughter at her first party without us recently as we couldn’t bring her younger sibling. Reassured in the knowledge that several friends were there with their children, we left several numbers and instructions to both our daughter and them should she feel she needed anything (like assistance with the buffet, or more specifically, avoiding eating fifteen jaffa cakes for lunch). It was somewhat of a test run, and given we had a phone call to collect our tearful daughter early it reassured us that perhaps our usual stance of staying at parties wasn’t so over the top after all.
We also let our daughter go into London with her grandparents to her first theatre experience this summer – and whilst there was definitely part of me imagining what could happen, and how awful I’d feel if it were to, the other more rational side of me weighed up the risks and likelihood with the fact she would be creating a magical memory with two very special people that she will carry with her for the rest of her life. Sometimes, it’s just a case of giving yourself a good old talking to isn’t it?
Even in the care of responsible adults, knowing your child is breaking out into the wide world without you by their side to protect them is a daunting thought. With real dangers like road traffic, weirdos, lightening bolts, escaped zoo animals, [fill in your own crazy thoughts here] you really can send your mind into overdrive of the possibilities which could (but probably won’t) happen.
Last year when the nursery took the children on a class trip, quite honestly my feeling was of sheer panic imagining my three year old out there in all her vulnerability, with all my trust going into the somewhat chaotic environment that is a pre-school. Will they ask her if she needs the toilet every ten minutes? Who will make sure she can open her packed lunch? What if she ends up going home on the wrong coach… Fortunately, I was able to gatecrash the event under the guise of ‘parent helper’ and happily clucked over my three year old to my hearts content whilst enjoying a bonus day out.
So this year, when it came to reception class’ first outing, did I feel the same overwhelming need to be there? I have to say, no, not this time. Something in me feels that whilst I’d love to be a fly on the wall, me being there might actually detract from her experience, bring out the worst in her and perhaps it’s time for her to enjoy the school trip experience without Mummy nagging her to put her hat on.
And this is just the beginning.
At this stage in life the girls are so dependent on us, their parents. But it won’t always be like that. The very idea of waving the girls off to go backpacking, to go out clubbing, to go into London, or even to meet their friends at the huge shopping mall is so alien it’s almost unimaginable. Yet it will happen; that day will come, and all these baby steps we will take over the coming years are all getting both of us ready for that time. Every sleepover, playdate, scout camp or holiday club is all just a big practice run for the main event of their adult life which is laid out before them.
Yet, today as my two year old wriggled free from my hand and tried to run towards a road, it made me feel momentarily like I never want to let either of them go anywhere without me, ever.
This post originally featured as part of www.meetothermums.com blog squad