I remember being fifteen and telling my parents that I wanted to go to an out-of-town college all by myself. The place in question was only a half hour train journey, followed by a fifteen minute bus ride; but it was still a big leap for someone who had spent the first fifteen years of her life living in one place and being chaperoned to any place that took more than twenty minutes to reach.
Being a good negotiator (or believing myself to be one) I gave my parents two options – one, let me travel by the famous Mumbai local train to a college that was an hour’s journey; or two, let me travel, (again by the erstwhile local train,) to a college that was a half hour’s train journey followed by a fifteen minute bus ride. I cleverly presented them with these two options, the idea being, that even if they agreed to the one with the least travel time, I would still get my wish granted of going to a college outside of my small town!
The interesting thing was, it didn’t even occur to me then that my parents may actually not agree to either of the options. I just knew that they would agree to the least travel time perhaps, but will never disagree to both the options and convince me to stay in my own town and go to college there and continue to stay on till I decided to get married and move away. And true to what I had thought, I did end up going to the college where the train took me in lesser time and enjoying the five years of my college life thoroughly! Not only that, but after my graduation, when I asked permission to go to law school, farther than any place I had ever been till then, I was given permission for that too! I was very happy with my negotiation skills at the time and believed that it was I who had gotten my parents to agree to let me explore my world and make my own mistakes.
Of course, today I know how naïve I was! Today, as a parent I know; how much of emotional turmoil and psychological control it must have taken them to let me make those choices then.
I read an article recently, where the author urges parents to let go – to let their children grow up and make their own mistakes – not merely because the children need to eventually live independently, but because letting go is essential for the parents’ soul too! The author gives the example of the black headed gull; and I quote “Consider the case of the black-headed gull – a pest in some eyes – but probably a better parent than we humans. Mother bird simply locks the larder once junior can fly, having attained an adult size and weight. The rule is simple: "No more regurgitated mackerel for you, my pet, find your own!" Days will pass while outraged child prods her with the cry of "Gimme" like some stroppy teenager deprived of broadband. But the young bird adapts. It has to. The law of our animal kingdom says there's a time to grow up. A time that we as social animals sometimes seem determined to push into middle age.”
Let go, he urges parents, “…for as long as you cling to your children like a lifebelt, you will cease to grow up (yourself).”
After I read that, I found myself wondering, will I be able to let go? I had asked my parents to let me travel by train as a starry-eyed fifteen year old; but today when my own little one asks me if he can go somewhere all by himself, I am scared to let him go. Why, I am worried when he even goes on field trips with his class (and honestly, I don’t even send him for some, if I can help it!) He is nowhere near being a teenager yet, and if this is how I feel now; then it makes me shudder at the thought of what I will do when it will be time for him to actually fly the nest!
Don’t get me wrong, I am not one of those mothers who define themselves with their children as the focal point in their life. Because, I know that eventually never ends up in anything good, especially in the Indian scenario where grown and married children live with their parents for the most part; since parents who found it difficult to let go when their children were young, continue to find it impossible to let go when the children have grown and subsequently had their own families. And that is why, I have made it a point to have my own priorities and my work that keeps me busy. However, it still doesn’t mean I trust myself to be able to let go when the time comes, not yet, that is.
But then again, I think to myself; what was it that gave my parents the confidence to let me fly solo when I was a mere teenager; and I see, that the first time I asked them if I could fly solo wasn’t actually the time I really did fly solo; the signs were always there, the confidence had started being built long before I turned fifteen. The foundation was laid when they trusted me to walk to and from my school (a fifteen minute walk) for the first time. My confidence was built when they let me go drop my sibling to school, all by myself. But the question was not merely about my confidence; it was also about their trust – their trust in me that I will do the right thing.
So I tell myself, if I can give my little one the confidence to be independent and if I can trust him to do the right thing, then I don’t have to fear anything, right? Right? I know the world is different today from what it was fifteen years back; but hey, the quality of the fruit is still decided by the care the tree received as a sapling! Isn’t it?
Well, thankfully, there is still time for me to convince myself on this, but what do you think? Will you be able to let go when the time comes?