It seems like yesterday that my husband and I were in the Doctor’s office trying to absorb the magnitude of those two words – ‘you’re pregnant’. It was one of the most exciting moments of my life, and the birth of all our three children are at the apex of my Top Ten Happy Moments. As I write this article today, on the morning of my eldest son’s wedding, I have a vision of all of the ‘rites of passages’ that I have gone through – many of which you have already or will be going through in this parenthood journey. I hope that you have been as fortunate as I in being able to share those experiences with family and with a group of supportive friends. Life was so much easier for me because my friends were either alongside, ahead or closely behind me in the stages we went through (oddly enough, the brains behind this paper, Susan Rykiss, has a son that is exactly the same age as my son – and what do you know – he happened to be in the same Kindergarten class 25 years ago, and he happens to be walking down the aisle in the not too distant future!). As I look at around me at this wedding weekend, I see a group of my son’s friends from both Elementary and Optometry School, and we are celebrating with the family and friends that have watched him grow and helped my husband and I evolve as parents. Having friends at the same stages allowed us to learn from and share information and experience – starting with the research on whether conception positions can really affect the sex of your child…. to the best way to adopt a child….. the ideal way to enjoy the birthing experience …. Consumer’s Reports on baby paraphernalia (how can one ten pound baby require three sherpas and a van to carry the 100 pounds of equipment that go with it?)…. to the much more important decisions of childcare and school.
In the last issue of Winnipeg Parent I wrote a Father’s Day article; this time, I will indulge in a mother’s day memoir. After all, today is the ultimate day of ‘letting go’ of the apron strings. I remember how difficult it was for my own mother to cross this rite of passage – a public declaration that her child would start the transition of loving her partner more than her parents. I didn’t really ‘get it’ until I was a parent, and I suspect that many of you have had similar ‘aha’ moments – flashbacks to the past when you thought your parents were crazy/controlling/ridiculous - now finding yourself in the same position.
Mothers have to start ‘letting go’ in the first days or weeks of their precious baby’s life. Everyone wants to hold the baby - we size them up – are their noses dry, their hands clean, do they look like they know how to support the baby’s head? Some moms just want to jump in and comfort their baby when they hear that cry in the arms of someone else’s hands. But they soon recognize that they must let go, for many reasons. If you immediately take the baby back, the baby is comforted and the crying stops. Unfortunately, the reinforcing feeling of that comfort strengthens the associate between ‘crying when feeling insecure, tired, hungry…’ and ‘gaining mom’s full attention’. Fast forward to daycare, nursery or Kindergarten, and you can see how a pattern of Separation Anxiety originates…… or worse yet – a child with a pouting look insisting ‘no… I don’t want daddy to read me books – I only want MOMMY’. Even more than for separation-anxiety-avoidance sake, allowing others into your child’s life enriches them in ways that you yourself could not.
The next ‘letting go’ stage is sometimes with a babysitter or daycare. I remember the day I told my mother that we had found a daycare for our two-year-old, so that I could go back to work part-time. She said ‘I never let a stranger raise my children’. I looked at her and said – ‘so you encouraged me spend ten years in University so that I could stay home and raise children?’ I myself was extremely anxious about the prospects of daycare, but after only a few weeks of daily crying (mine, not his) and stitches on my arms to sew up the ‘PLEASE DON’T LEAVE ME’ claw marks (on my arms, not his), I realized that daycare was wonderful. It exposed our son to rules, structures, routines, and the opportunity to observe and learn from older children and other adults. It didn’t take too long to realize that delegating some of the child-rearing had enriched his life in a way that I could not.
There were many more ‘letting go’ moments – the first day of school (and the recognition that he would be spending less of his waking hours with us than he would with his teacher and friends; the first day of overnight camp (his diet, bedtime, health and safety would all be controlled by someone else – possibly even someone half our age); the first day of extended holidays with aunties and uncles; the first day of University in a new city (we would have absolutely NO clue as to what his study habits or lifestyle would be); and now… the first day of the rest of his life with his own family.
They say that it takes a community to raise a child – and all of the above were the communities that helped raise our son to be the man that we are so proud to walk down the aisle with. There’s no doubt that we had some role in the making of this man. But more important that just us, was the richness of the communities that embraced him when it was time for us to let go. And we are supremely fortunate and grateful that he has found a life partner that will love him as much as we do and will hopefully never let him go!