The Art of Letting Go

I want to be everything for my girls. I want to be the love and the security, the stability and the inspiration. I want to create for them the space where they can find themselves. I want to be the compass and the wind. I want to be the farthest that they can fall and the celebration when they don’t. I want to help them soar.

I’m learning that fatherhood isn’t that simple.

For more than a year now I have been taking my daughters to a children’s yoga class. And for more than a year now they have been sitting idle and unbent in the back of the class with me while the other parents leave and the other kids joyfully bounce their Qi around the room. Surprisingly, both girls have looked forward to going every single week, but every single week they have both flatly refused to leave my side or participate in any way. I wouldn’t call their introduction to yoga a booming success.

Considering Bug’s apprehensive nature, none of this has been a great shock. As I’ve written about before, when faced with individual challenges she can be a serious bad ass, but put her in a group situation and her comfort level plummets. Lemon, being a future gorge jumper, would happily throw her Downward Facing Dog onto the mat, but if her big sister isn’t in then she isn’t either. Lemon takes her cues from her older sister, as most 2 year olds probably do, and if Bug sees something to be nervous about then Lemon is not one to question.

Holly and I had hoped when this grand bystanding began that yoga would be a great way for Bug to discover some of that inner mightiness that we knew she had. Knowing her, though, we knew it wouldn’t come easy. We weren’t dissuaded when the only pose she (and, therefore, her sister) would do at first involved her fingers packed firmly into her mouth – it will come, we thought. Give her time and she’ll warm up.

Months passed and little changed. At first, I tried to disappear into the background as much as possible, deferring to the instructor to pull the girls out of their sit-in. As nothing progressed, though (truly of no fault of the instructor), my frustration grew and I more actively tried to encourage them to participate. I persuaded, cajoled, coaxed and even bribed. I tried to show them it was a safe place, that these were kind people, that there was nothing to be scared of. Just try, I would say to them. Nothing worked. They sang the songs at home, talked about how nice the teacher was and asked to go back every week. Still, nothing. Despite my growing frustration with what seemed like a lack of progress, we kept going.

After a year or so, I was still trying to convince myself that it was all right. This was a beautiful environment, the teacher was angelic and they were at least being exposed to yoga, if not doing any. I felt like a failure, though. They clearly didn’t feel secure, they weren’t inspired and they certainly weren’t soaring, I thought. All of my hopes and intentions were in tatters. I wanted so badly to help them to move forward, to grow, to just be free and easy kids and, at least for that hour every week, they weren’t.

Then one day Bug had to go potty.

I leaned into Lemon to tell her that I was taking her sister to the bathroom and she just nodded. Okay. Okay? For a year my absence was strictly forbidden – when one left, we all left. Period. That day, for some reason, was different. Lemon happily stayed behind as Bug and I left the room.

Bug finished her business and we started back into class. Through the plate glass door to the classroom we saw something quite surprising. Lemon had dragged her mat from our traditional spot on the back wall up onto the teacher’s platform. She was standing up there, next to the teacher, doing yoga. Essentially, she was co-teaching the class.

I’m pretty sure my smile extended beyond my ears but I don’t really remember, considering the shock gave me a mild heart attack. We opened the door and Bug shouted through her enormous smile “Lemon, what are you doing?” We sat back down and a wave of realization overtook me. I now leaned into Bug and whispered “I’ll be right back”, stood back up and walked out of the room. By myself.

I couldn’t believe what had happened. I stood outside of the classroom, peering through the window, trying not to be noticed, and watched my daughters become fully engaged with the rest of the class. They were participating. They looked happy and comfortable and free.

When class ended I reentered the room to find two jubilant little girls. I was awash in the significance of the moment and squatted down to greet them. They raced over to me and threw themselves into my arms. We celebrated.

Parenthood is swollen fat with frustrations, victories and lessons. For more than a year my girls and I struggled in our own individual ways with some very uncomfortable moments associated with this yoga class. They battled with their own self-consciousness and fear while I fought to find a way to help them overcome their demons, whether real or perceived. At the same time, I was wrestling with my own expectations, trying to find the balance between their individuality and my role as their guide and protector.

This yoga class, and specifically that day, was a watershed moment for them. Since then they have been dedicated little yoginis, forever instructing their father to wait in the lobby. Moreover, that experience has provided them with a springboard to another level of comfort in many other social settings that would have previously left them hovering behind me and paralyzed.

Their watershed moment, though, pales in comparison to mine (which is a funny statement considering the lesson). It’s not about me. As I said, I want to be everything for my daughters. When I saw them struggle, I wanted to pick them up and carry them across to safety. I wanted to hold their hands and walk them toward their own self-assuredness. As ridiculous as that sounds, I didn’t get it until I left that classroom. It never occurred to me that I could be the one that was holding them back. It wasn’t until I saw it for myself that I understood that their journey forward did not necessarily depend on me.

Parenthood is the art of letting go. We cannot be everything for our children because that leaves them without the opportunity to be everything for themselves. Even at my daughters’ young age, they need to venture out on their own and carve their own way. I can, and should, set for them a solid foundation. That foundation, though, is just that – a foundation. It is up to them to build upon that which their mother and I have laid down. I now know that it is up to me to let them.

The education continues…..

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About Mitchell Brown

I am a stay at home dad with my two daughters who are a lot stronger than they look. When I'm not cooking, cleaning, dancing, reading, teaching, playing or protecting my eyes and groin, I am writing about this whole experience in all of its ridiculousness.
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27 Responses to The Art of Letting Go

  1. Jared Karol says:

    Mitch, As someone who has been reading your posts with religiosity since the beginning, I must say that this one is the one that resonated with me the most. What a beautiful thing to realize where your power as a parent lays and where it DOESN’T. I just hope I can remember the lesson from this post as my kids move into more and more situations where my cheer leading may actually be an obstacle instead of an supplier of confidence.

    • Thanks, Jared, for your comments and for your religiosity. 🙂

      That lesson about the balance that we as parents must find concerning our influence has been such a significant one for me – and is never ending, I would assume. I, too, hope that I can remain grounded in the lessons I learned that day and continue to learn in order to be all that I can for my kids, especially when what I need to be is invisible.

  2. Maggie Batt says:

    Sounds like a perfect lesson learned. One more knotch in your belt for parenthood. Look forward to many more to come…..Voting for you and asking others to do the same. You rock brother!

    • Every one of these lessons is so wonderful, no?

      Thanks for the vote of confidence and for your time, once again, my friend.

      You rock, Maggie. I’ll miss you this Thursday.

  3. Scott Barnes says:

    I don’t get it Mitch. Seems perfectly logical to me as a non-father. Had you tried to leave the room before and it didn’t work? Had it never occurred to you to leave the room? Will you look for more opportunities now to send them on their own?

    • I guess I could have been clearer on that point. As I alluded to in the piece (obviously not clearly enough), I had certainly tried to exit many times over that year, but the girls were just not ready. Ultimately, I think that was the point – when it did happen it happened because they were ready to fly on their own. I don’t subscribe to the idea of shoving the baby bird out of the nest to teach it to fly. I’m not saying that my way is the right answer for everyone, but after a great deal of thought and a little experience, my way is the right answer for me (and my girls). Seeing the results of that patience and dedication shows me that it was the right answer for us after all. In light of that, I will continue to look more actively for opportunities to allow them to experience life free of their father’s shadow. I have absolutely been doing so up to this point, but this lesson has shown me that they are more ready than ever.

      Thanks for your time, Scott. This was very helpful. Since you didn’t get it, as you said, I see that I have work to do on the clarity and organization of my message in my writing. That is valuable information to me.

  4. Meka says:

    I love this post. I was so excited and then felt a tear myself. Maybe because I visualize the faces on all of you. It certainly takes a strong parent to be able to step aside and realize that sometimes it is because of ourselves we have frustration or disappointment rather than the actions of our children causing these feelings. The holding close and letting go is such a delicate balance. This is really something I needed to read. I believe everything will happen when it is meant to, but I am all to often reminded that I am the one who has a harder time letting go. I think Koa would be in the X-games now and Kai would would be out running at top speed, looking behind him, while simultaneously spreading world peace…….if I would just not hold them so darn close!

    Thank you so much for sharing and making me feel not so all alone in this journey.

    • Thank you so much, Meka.

      Figuring out when to let go and when to hold on is, indeed, such a delicate balance. It is hard enough figuring out when we as adults are ready to venture forward and when to hold back – trying to do that same thing for our little individuals is exponentially more difficult, as we all continue to find out. Rest assured, my friend, Koa will be in the X-games and Kai will be sprinting for world peace before we know it. And it will absolutely happen when they are ready – whether we are ready or not is yet to be seen (and, confoundingly, inconsequential)

      Thank you for sharing. You are certainly not alone, sister.

  5. yara says:

    again, thank you for sharing such intimate details about life and human growth with us in such well crafted prose. i know it sounds saccharine, but these posts truly warm my heart. it makes me feel better knowing there are people like you out there helping our little ones continue to grow into more beautiful complete human beings every day – especially when that means letting go. and with the written word being my favorite thing in the world (next to beautiful, humble, aware people), it’s a true joy to be part of this ride. yay! and peace.

    • Yara, your words mean more to me than I can say. Thank you so much. I appreciate and value the reconnection we have had enormously.

      It is a joy to know that you are reading and spending time with me. Yay and peace to you, my friend.

  6. Colby says:

    As I was reading the second half of this post, I was smiling through tears of pride – for you and for my amazing nieces! I clapped wholeheartedly at the idea of little Lemon up on stage with the instructor and at the swollen heart with which you must have viewed that scene! You (and your writing) amaze me, little brother. You have the power to move us emotionally, and, at the same time, help your readers progress in our collective effort to succeed at the toughest job we ever signed up for! Love you and those little wonders!

    • ‘Thank you’ doesn’t come close to covering it here, Sister. I cried when I first read your words and I’m crying as I’m typing this (truly a Brown, huh?). I have no words.

      I love you, Colby.

  7. What a fabulous story!! They say parenthood doesn’t come with a training manual and its so true. Its hard to know what kids are really thinking and as parents we so often “think” we know the best solutions to everything. As you learned sometimes its best to step aside and let them spread their wings. Thanks for sharing!

    • Thanks, Steve. Sometimes I feel like I am learning more than they are as we go along on this journey and I am so thankful for all of those lessons. It’s funny how the longer I am a parent the more I realize that I don’t have the best solutions to everything.

      Thank you for sharing your time and thoughts with me.

  8. Tyrone M. says:

    Wow…this is a *great* post. I’m struggling with this, but learning slowly. I’ve become an expert at the daycare dropoff. My daughter is an expert at it. But when it comes to truly letting go, letting her accomplish something on her own, I don’t even think about it. This is a great reminder that we do have to start.

    • Thanks so much, Tyrone. It is a struggle for sure. Trying to find the balance between being the doting dad and allowing them to experience for themselves has been one of the greatest challenges for me thus far.

      I really appreciate you taking the time to read and comment, sir.

  9. J i m S says:

    Once again, you bring very encouraging words of wisdom to a fellow seeker/father (seether?). I admire your introspection and hope to use it to motivate me to do more of the same. I’m continually amazed at what you share here, both in prose and reflection. Big, big hugs to you my friend.

    • We seethers are on quite a journey, no? Thank you so much for your kind words, once again, my friend. You sharing your time is very special to me. Big hugs right back atcha.

  10. David says:

    Mitchell,

    You are amazingly insightful. We all know the philosophy of letting go, of that, or those which we love… Who knew it would apply to our children at such a young and tender age. I learned that only when my daughter was a teenager and you have learned it as yours are so much younger. Hopefully that will help you deal with, or eliminate, some of those other difficulties I dealt with during those teenage years. I admire you and your insight and you know I love your girls. Congratulations, brother father. Well done and very well said. Thank you.

    David

    • Thank you, brother father. 🙂 I can only hope that these lessons will maintain and carry me through those teenage years that all parents with daughters speak of. I appreciate your words of encouragement so much, David – the admiration is more than mutual.

  11. Great post…and it just goes to prove that there are no right or wrong parenting approaches….each child is unique and also uniquely changes as they grow. Keeps you on your toes. Keeping yourself tuned to their signals to you is the key!

  12. daddygreen says:

    By far my favorite post on your blog. Thank you for sharing what we all feel.

  13. Kevin says:

    Yup.

    It has been almost a year that I’ve been a SAHD and I too have struggeld with leaving the room. I’ve started doing it more and I’ve noticed that the kids reslove conflicts on their own more often, they work and play together better. I love sitting back and listening to their conversations…of course I have to be standing in the doorway in another room listening or they’d stop talking to one another.

    Great post, Mitchell!

    • Thanks, Kevin (a little belated, I know, but my appreciation for your thoughts here wasn’t absent, just didn’t find it’s way onto the page until now).

      That blurred line between our kids being a part of us and being individuals is a tough one to navigate, but with thought and intention we can do it. I know yours are in good hands, my friend. Thanks for your time.

  14. Stacie Johnson says:

    I missed this one until just now.I love your perspective! I think sometimes we do learn more from them then they do from us! Letting go is something I’m trying to get the hang of…and not very well I should add. I think I will follow her to college when the time comes. As I said before your posts will one day be a an amazing gift to your girls. Keep on writing I can’t wait to hear more!

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