When it is time to let go…


Written in the spring of 2013 as my middle son was making his decision on where to attend college…that son is about to graduate from Boston College. Time does indeed fly by, but the lessons stay.


As parents, there is always the line we come to when it is time to let go…or almost time…or not quite yet time. Some of us cross this line and do too much for our children…not too often though. It starts at the very beginning, and there are a million parenting books, all with conflicting information. When do we let the baby cry it out? When will they sleep through the night? When should they feed themselves solid food (as messy a proposition as that is)?


We interview our pediatricians and grandparents and strangers in the playground, seeking the Holy Grail of Parenting Information. And I’m here to give you that answer: there is very little black and white in parenting and a million (not 50) shades of gray. Bad: leaving your baby unattended in a bath tub. Good: changing a dirty diaper. All the other things are in gray zone.


I have 3 boys and each of them slept through the night at a different age and in a different manner. Mark slept through the night at nine months old when he could finally roll himself over and get into a comfortable position (and no, he was not delayed…he went on to become a Division 1 Athlete. Each child has their own time clock and pace). Timmy ate every 2 hours like clockwork for 14 months. I was quite sure that I was on my way to becoming to first zombie of the coming apocalypse when he finally and miraculously slept through the night at this ripe old age and started eating on a more normal human schedule. He still has a metabolism that runs hotter than Indian Point. Jack, blissfully and wonderfully, on his own started sleeping through the night at 5 months. He must have sensed that I was beyond desperate for rest. The point is that we can read every expert book and interview 100 sleep experts. Each child will sleep through the night under normal circumstances when their body is ready.


There are countless examples of when we need to follow our children’s lead on this…and given the research we have done…make a decision about what is right for our individual child. When do you uncurl their dimpled toddler fingers to let them take their first tentative step on their own? When do you release the back of the bicycle seat that you have held onto with a Vulcan death grip to make sure they won’t tip over? The answer is partially when the child is ready and partially when you can let go. Not always easy!!


Fast forward through pacifiers, play dates, and proms. Now it is time for college applications and finally the college decision after all the acceptances have been received and reviewed. We just went through this with my second son, Timmy. He had a few very strong offers and we drove around the country once more for second viewings, conversations with professors, and chats with students. We reviewed the financial packages and made spread sheets. Ultimately though, after giving my parental opinion about the pros and cons of each college, dorms, finances, professional possibilities, networking, and more, the deadline for decision loomed. The day before the deposit was due, Timmy again asked what I thought. And, I did that very difficult thing…I let go.


I told Timmy that I had given him all my opinions. He had heard all my rationalizations for each school…pro and con. We had walked the campuses and done the research, together. At this final moment, it was up to him to pick which path his life would take. Would it be in rural Vermont? Downtown Boston? Maryland? The intangibles that make up a life choice such as this must come from the one who is to own that life. It is the moment to let go of the bicycle seat, to let him feed himself, and so much more. 18 years of helping him to develop a moral compass and a solid decision making process, and now it was time to trust that process to work. I told him that there was no wrong choice. There was no tragic end in taking one school over another. The moment to trust his intuition to tell him where he would be happiest, where he would develop his inner whisper into a strong voice, where he would forge friendships to last a lifetime…this moment had come and I could not tell him which school would give him this. I wasn’t worried. I knew he would choose the school that would launch him into the beginning of his bigger journey.


Boston College is a very lucky school indeed. And I can now sleep as well as I did when Timmy finally slept through the night.


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