Learning to let go
Earlier this year, in my hometown of Auckland, New Zealand, we were in lockdown for over 100 days. Whilst being locked down with my three children was challenging (to put it mildly!), what I didn’t realise was how difficult it would feel to ‘let them go’ again when their school and kindergartens re-opened.
But as parents, ‘letting go’ is something we need to do, even if it feels really hard at times.
Letting go as a parent can come in different forms and the intensity with how it is felt varies from one parent and situation to the next. It is not uncommon for first-time parents to feel really uncomfortable letting other people in, particularly in those early days. For example, some parents may really struggle to let other people hold their babies, soothe their babies or help their babies get to sleep. The reasons for this are many and varied and are particularly heightened during a global pandemic!
For some, letting go might involve leaving their baby with the other parent, a family member, a friend or babysitter if they plan to leave the house. For other parents, letting go might be when childcare is first introduced when they have to return to work.
However it presents, letting go can feel tough and bring about a lot of different emotions such as anxiety, worry, fear, guilt, or even sadness. And it can be an incredibly difficult time.
But we do need to let go – even if it does feel tough. Letting go is often just as important for our babies (or children) as it is for us.
For babies, it is important for them to learn to feel comfortable and safe with other people. It is also important for them to learn that if their parents go, they will come back. This is important for attachment and learning to feel safe and secure. Safe and secure attachment is something that children carry with them throughout their life.
For us as parents, we equally need to learn that we can trust other people to care for, and love, our babies. We need to trust that significant people in our life are equally important for the wellbeing of our babies. We also need to accept help and find some “me” time – and to do that, we need other people to step in and help care for our little ones.
So, if learning to let go is important, how do we learn to manage the strong feelings that come with that?
- As always, ‘name it’. Naming how you feel can substantially reduce the impact that feeling has on you. Stating that “this feels tough” or “I am struggling to let go” is the first step in learning to do just that - let go. It also sets you up to proactively do something about how you are feeling.
- Question why you are feeling as you are. What is causing you to feel this way? Are your worries genuine? Or are they emotion-based? Sometimes when we can analyse why we are thinking and feeling a certain way, we can see that often it is based in emotion or “what-if” fears, rather than in reality.
- Tell others how you are feeling and give them the opportunity to reassure you. For example, if you feel worried about another person putting your baby to sleep, tell them that you are feeling that way and teach them how you do it and the reasons for that. Let them reassure you that they “have got this” and that they will call you if there are any problems. Similarly, if you are worried about germs, bugs or Covid-19 – tell others. Again, let them reassure you that they are vaccinated or that they are well and healthy.
- Ease yourself into letting go. You may want to be with another caregiver the first time (or first few times) that they are with your baby, to give you the opportunity to see first-hand that they are loving and kind.
- Be kind to yourself – and accept that letting go is tough. Don’t fight against it or tell yourself to “toughen up”. Instead, acknowledge and breathe through the discomfort.
- Remind yourself that your baby or child is safe. Remind yourself that the person (or place like day-care) have “got this” and that this is good for your baby, and you.
Letting go is tough, but important. And with time, it does get easier. Letting go is so important for both you and your baby, not only now while they are young, but also as they grow and develop. Dropping the struggle with letting go, breathing through it, and reassuring yourself will certainly make it easier. Finally, always remind yourself that letting go is only ever temporary, and you will be reunited with your baby or child again soon.