Why parenting is a long series of letting go

Kinderling News & Features

Shevonne Hunt is the host of Kinderling Conversation.

I was sitting in the doctor’s surgery when I realised that I was staring at a breastfeeding mum.

I know. Creepy. But bear with me.

It was a rare moment when I was without my own children, and she was waiting for her appointment. The baby might have been around six months old. I wasn’t staring at the mum, and I certainly wasn’t ogling her boob. I was watching her baby’s face, and remembering.

I was remembering the feel of my own baby in my arms, their soft small body nestled in to mine. I was remembering watching as their eyes fluttered shut against their soft rosy cheeks. I was transported back to that time when it was just the two of us, ensconced in a love bubble.

Remembering is bitter-sweet. It was a beautiful time but I will never have it again. Parenting, after all, is a long series of letting go.

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You start with the first weeks and months, where every waking moment is consumed by their needs, their presence, the simple miracle of their life. At that point, they feel like an extension of your physical self. I remember trying to sleep in another room and feeling like part of my body was in a separate part of the house.

Then you go might go back to work, or on a date night or for a walk - and someone else is looking after your baby. They don’t need you so much anymore, other people can do it. The invisible chord that ties you together is loosened just a little.

One day you’ll turn around from the kitchen sink and your baby will be toddling across the room to you, arms outstretched. Your heart will burst with excitement. But your baby has gone, replaced by a toddler scrambling towards the next milestone. The chord will loosen, another small length will stretch out.

You get the picture. Each step forward as our children grow, they get further from that intimate, personal space that mother was sharing with her breast-feeding baby.

But that is the strange and mystifying role of parenthood.

It’s our job to help our children grow, to learn and to become more independent. No one wants an adult son asking for some “bitty”. Knowing that doesn’t stop me from feeling sad that my children will never be babies again.

And I’m not looking back with rose-coloured glasses. I know each age is full of its own delights and challenges. I haven’t forgotten the first three months of excruciating pain I had breastfeeding.

And yet. They were mine then in a way that was never destined to continue.

And while I have to stop myself from snatching new babies out of their mother’s arms, I can’t imagine my kids being any other age than they are now.

They are funny, infuriating and completely loveable as they are. And every step they take away from me, I’m evolving too. I’m not the same person I was when they were completely mine. I’ve learned so much more – about them, and about myself.

I take solace from the fact that as they grow more independent, as I lose a little bit of their childhood, I gain something new from them, and new in myself.

It also helps me squeeze every moment out of the present.

At night when I sing my daughter to sleep, I try not to wish away the time until she nods off. I lie there knowing that at this point in time I am the centre of her universe, and that’s a very special place to be.

My son still has the chubbiness of infancy and says “hopstible” instead of “hospital”. I could watch him dance with abandon for hours.

When I drop them off to school, I breathe through the stress of getting them out the door. I try to enjoy the time we spend together along the way - singing in the car, racing each other to the school gate.

I couldn’t possibly explain all that to the mother in the doctor’s surgery. And I certainly wasn’t going to be one of those Mums who say; “Enjoy it, they grow so fast”.

But I did need to explain why I was staring at her. I apologised and said I was remembering when my children were small.

The rest of it she’ll discover in her own time.