The following is an article originally published in 2010, updated in 2015 and definitely illustrates how hard it is to “let go” when you’re a parent.
When my third son, Tim, was a toddler, his favorite book was Are You My Mother? by P.D. Eastman. In the story, the baby bird breaks out of his shell and his mother isn’t anywhere to be found. He journeys on a quest to find his mother, asking a dog, cow and various other animals and inanimate objects the question: “Are you my mother?” Eventually, mother and baby bird are reunited and they live happily ever after.
In the real world, a mother bird knows when it’s time for baby bird to leave the nest. For humans, the gradual letting go of mother and child takes place over many years. It begins the first time Dad takes his newborn son out for a car ride or Grandmom takes the baby for a walk in the stroller. The important thing for most parents is to allow this transition to take place and to not smother our children when it’s time to “let go.”
I have to admit, it’s hard for me to “let go.” Attachment parenting was a natural way to nurture my children and I enjoyed nursing them, carrying them, rocking them and simply being with them. Homeschooling was also a logical progression of this philosophy.
At around age three or so, our sons weaned. At varying ages, they stopped coming into our bed. Homeschooling eventually comes to an end. Part of the “letting go” process also means allowing them to make their own decisions in life.
In 2009, Tim (then 17, now 23) landed a “dream” job at the local parachuting club. A few weeks after he had started, Tim called from the club and calmly explained that his boss had shared with him that one of the perks of his job was free skydiving. So he asked if he could go skydiving, that afternoon – in about two hours, to be precise. I immediately dismissed the request, saying, “Tim, forget it. You’re not jumping out of a plane at 10,000 feet.” I had spent the last 17 years of Tim’s life trying to protect him from danger, so why would I stop now?
“But, Mom,” he said, “I’ll have a parachute on and there’ll be an experienced jumper with me.” I hesitated, wanting to shout at him, “Are you crazy? Why would you want to jump out of an airplane?” But I didn’t. Instead, I said, “Couldn’t you just wait until another time?”
“Mom, today there are perfect conditions; it’s clear and there aren’t many tandem jumpers. They said I could do it today. Please.”
My husband, standing nearby, gently reminded me that in six months, our son would turn 18 and he’d be able to do it without our permission. I also thought about the fact that in a few short months, Tim would be old enough to join the armed forces and fight in battle (and possibly jump out of airplanes all the time). I sighed, then said, “We’ll be right there.”
Of course, since he was under 18, we had to sign papers consenting to his jumping out of an airplane at 10,000 feet, with another skydiver (tandem skydiving). Then we had to watch a video explaining what would be involved. Perhaps if I’d had a week or even a day to rethink the whole thing, I wouldn’t have agreed to it.
The instructor who made the tandem jump with Tim assured me that there were all kinds of backups and safety precautions: extra parachutes, an experienced jumper making the trip down with him, etc. But I was not happy about it. I prayed from the moment he stepped onto the airplane and continued praying. It was the longest — and I mean the longest — 20 minutes of my life. My hands were shaking and I don’t think I actually breathed until he stepped onto the ground.
When he was close to landing, we could hear him screaming. In that first half-second, my motherly instincts kicked in and I panicked. “Is he okay?” I frantically asked my husband, standing nearby. Then I heard loud hearty laughter from Tim, still in the air above us.
He finally landed and the bright and happy expression on his face said it all. He kept saying thank you to the tandem instructor. But what surprised me was when he said, “Thanks, Mom, for letting me do that.”
I nodded, now relieved and happy that he was safe.
He tapped me on the shoulder. “Can I do it again next week?”
updated: copyright 2015 Ellen Gable Hrkach