Letting Go of your Children

It’s a Saturday afternoon. I am with my daughter browsing the shops in a large shopping centre. We’ve had lunch and as we leave the food court I spot the toilets.

I gesture towards the sign. “Do you need to go?”

To my surprise I get a piercing “Really!!!” expression back from her. And then I realise. She is twenty-three years old. Perhaps she’s old enough to decide for herself if she needs the toilet.

It’s an example of how letting go of your children can be a problem.

On another occasion, we leave her house and I instinctively ask if she’s locked all the doors.

She’s an intelligent, independent woman and yet sometimes I still treat her as a child. It’s not intentional. It’s not because she needs to be asked. It’s just habit, from years of asking her such questions. That’s what I have always done for her. It’s what parents do for their children. It’s fulfilling that protective, nurturing, supportive role that parents have.

It’s a role that I and many others can find difficult to let go of.

It is with great effort that I must forcibly try to control this instinctive fatherliness. I must stop fussing. She’s an adult now. I need to treat her as an adult.

But it can be so difficult. It’s not only a habit, it’s also the fact that we want the best for our children. If we have some extra knowledge or experience then we should pass it on to them. If we can help, then that’s what we should do. And of course, father knows best; father’s usually right.

But some things they have to learn for themselves; sometimes father isn’t right; sometimes we don’t know what they really want or really think; sometimes they just want to do their own thing.

It seems my role as a parent has diminished. And yet the responsibility never ends.

Of course, I am and will always be there for fatherly guidance, support, help and as an occasional reminder service but now it’s more as a back-stop – there if needed. Like an emergency service I am on call…. Something’s broken down, there’s decorating to be done, some additional finances would be appreciated.

But for a lot of the other stuff my role has been usurped by Google, by You Tube and by boy-friends. Emotional advice might still be required but, frankly, mum’s probably better at that than me.

You’d think that being a parent would get easier. Far from it. There are always new worries and concerns. You never stop wanting the best for them; you never stop worrying about them; you never stop wanting to help them.

Getting the relationship right between parent and grown-up child can be challenging. How do you gauge what sort of parent-child relationship you should have? How involved do children want their parents to be in their adult lives?

Sometimes you just have to bite your tongue. All you can hope for is that throughout their childhood they have learnt from you and that you have given them the life lessons that they need and which will stand them in good stead.

The process of “Letting Go”, the difficulty of it and the timing of it is one of the main reasons why the teenage years can be an issue. One of the main causes of teenage difficulties is the divergent opinion between parent and child as to how much involvement the parent should have in the growing child’s life. Teenagers, as they go through that “difficult phase” will often think that their well-meaning parents are too interfering, too controlling, too restrictive, too inquisitive.

Too often, parents fail to realise that their child is becoming an adult. They see them every day, they don’t notice the changes. Parents do need to make a point of regularly looking at their child’s physical, mental and emotional development in a detached way and adjusting their own behaviour accordingly.

Stepping back as a parent is not a singular event but happens gradually as the teenager matures. This, no doubt, makes it even harder to get right. – knowing when and by how much you should let go of your parental role and keeping that within the needs of your child. Very few parents will get it completely right. And, too often, rather than stepping back gradually, parents tend to do it in big steps, usually following some sort of altercation with their child.

Parents are all too aware that if they step back too far too soon they may perhaps put their child at risk or they may appear neglectful, disinterested, even unloving.

More recently, the difficulties children have in moving on and into independent living makes it even more difficult for parents to let go. Many young adults cannot afford to leave the family home and so parents, rather than not being able to let go, they can’t let go, they can’t get rid. Again, this creates a hardship. Their physical presence – sharing a house – reinforces that parent-child relationship.

As parents, letting go of your children is difficult, alien and challenging. How? When? It is an emotional hardship that can be uncomfortable and troubling. Yet it is something that we have to do. After all, it is in the best interests of the child and that, at the end of the day, is what it is all about.

© Copyright Steve Oxley 2021