GUEST BLOG POST: Letting Go Stirs Us Up by Loren Buckner
I lost a ring recently. It belonged to my grandmother. She gave it to my mother, who gave it me. I was planning on giving it to my daughter. I’ve turned the house upside down looking for it. I thought I knew where it was, but when I went for it, it was gone.
The interesting thing about this is that when I knew where the ring was I never thought about it. Now that it has disappeared, I can’t get it out of my mind. To feel better, I remind myself that no one is sick and no one has died. I’ve lost a thing not a loved one. Loss has a trickle down effect, though; one loss flows into others.
As parents, we tend to think about what it means to have children. We don’t focus very much on how difficult it is to let go of them. We know it’s important to be present in their lives and we want them to know that they can count on us. There’s an inherent problem, however, that catches many parents, mothers especially, by surprise. As we create meaningful relationships with our children, we also become deeply attached to them.
Feeling this deep connection is wonderful. It helps our kids develop inner security and self-confidence. Watching them grow up and away from us is a source of pride and joy but it’s also sometimes painful.
Separation begins early. Allowing babies to amuse themselves alone in their cribs and encouraging them to reach out toward other people begins the process. As we support separation, children will look forward to starting school, making friends, trying new things. Eventually they learn to drive and finally go off to college or out into the workforce. It’s a step-by-step repetitive process of their leaving and returning, leaving and returning. Our task is to face the emotional storms these milestones stir up.
I can still remember how I cried as I prepared to stop nursing my children. When I left them at daycare, I could hardly bring myself to walk out the door. I couldn’t wait for them to go off to camp, but then I missed them terribly every day they were away. As much as I was ready for our son to go off to college, it hurt my heart that he was really gone. And when it was time to launch our daughter, I was excited and proud. But the reality that she was grown and ready to fly also made me feel sad and lonely.
Don’t get me wrong. My children’s developmental milestones generated feelings of relief and delight. As they became more independent, I loved the growing sense of freedom that went along with it. When arguments about bedtime, homework time, and mall time became things of the past, it felt pretty darn good. And when the worry about where they were and who they were with was finally over, there was cause to celebrate.
Nevertheless, part of the normal parenting process also includes mourning. Feelings of sadness and loss that we have to address over and over as our children grow and change.
Mourning our losses may seem like a painful idea. “Shouldn’t I try to forget about my sadness and move on?”
Mourning is painful but not mourning is painful too. Holding our feelings inside and denying their existence doesn’t mean our feelings are gone. It’s a little like leaving food in the refrigerator for too long. At first we are completely unaware the onion is even in there. But, gradually, the whole refrigerator smells bad.
Grieving is like taking the onion out and wiping down the inside of the fridge. Not a chore we like to do but one we feel better about after it’s done.
“So, what do I have to do? Sit around and cry all day?” Not exactly. Mourning is allowing our thoughts and feelings to wash over us: crying, remembering, laughing, thinking about the good times and the bad ones too. From time to time, allow what comes to mind to linger there.
Although the ring is probably gone, I’ll keep looking for it. I know now that the feelings it has triggered go beyond the ring itself. I still miss my mom, who died many years ago, and I’m feeling a little sidelined as my kids lead their busy lives.
These emotions I’m feeling aren’t easily put into words. They’re a fact of life, a normal everyday occurrence. And yet, I mourn for these losses as I get ready to start my day.
The author of ParentWise: The Emotional Challenges of Family Life and How To Deal With Them, Loren Buckner, LCSW received a B.A in the Administration of Justice from American University and earned a Master of Social Work degree from Tulane University. She is a Fellow at the International Psychotherapy Institute, a member of the Chinese American Psychoanalytic Alliance, and a member of the Tampa Bay Psychoanalytic Society. Loren Buckner lives in Tampa, Florida, where she is in private practice as a psychotherapist. She is the mother of two grown children and has been married for over thirty years. A sought-after speaker and presenter, Loren has addressed local, national and international groups about the emotional challenges of raising children
Visit Loren Buckner on the web at: http://www.parentwisebook.com/.