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Letting Go Revisited

May 9, 2009 | by Emuna Braverman

Sending off my kids to Israel is getting harder, not easier.

I thought it was going to be easy. After all I'm an old pro. It's my fourth year in a row of sending children to Israel, in ones, in twos and in other complicated permutations. I thought I had it down pat, the only struggle being over the size of the suitcases!

But each holiday, each summer, each new year, the process of hellos and goodbyes begins again, leaving both joy and emotional trauma in its wake.

It's not that I want to hold on to them (well maybe a little). It's not that I'm afraid (at least not more afraid than when they take the car out on the streets of LA). It's not that I don't support and applaud their choices. But each coming and going takes a little piece of a mother's heart with it. And a father's heart... And younger sibling's hearts...

Even those children you can't wait to kick out the door (the Almighty made adolescence for a reason!), perhaps those most of all, leave turmoil and tears in their wake.

Did I advise enough? (Well, there are still cell phones!) Did I send enough? ("What, you're planning a trip?") Did I pray enough? Did I cry enough? Did I laugh enough?

And what to do now? How much mothering? How much space? How much protectiveness? How much independence?

Complicated questions with imperfect, individual answers. (You might be amazed at the power of my illusion of control that I believe I have any influence at all across such vast geography.)

I've tried to err on the side of encouraging independence of thought and play (as long as the play took place in our backyard!) -- benign neglect, my teacher calls it -- so I've been blindsided by my desire to hold on. "As long as they're happy," I always said, "I don't need to be in constant contact." Hah!

I discipline myself to limit my calling and try to wait for them to call me (once again fostering that illusion of independence). I even confess to slight annoyance when I get both good night and good morning calls (no, nothing happened while you were sleeping!). I know that our children need to break away, to create their own lives, to choose the moments of contact. I don't want to interfere (I'm trying to improve the bad reputation of mother-in-laws!), I don't want to impose my will on my children (well maybe only once in a while) and couldn't anyway. I want them to make their own very real and personal choices.

Creating their own adult, autonomous lives is what we raise our children to do. Independence is success (repeat after me). Sometimes it's challenging, sometimes it's painful, sometimes we want to speak but don't, and always we pray.

If they want my advice, I'm ready to proffer it (My brisket recipe? Sure. Help with statistics? You must be kidding!) If they don't, my lips are sealed, which may be the biggest effort of all. Mostly they want my shopping! Letting go of our children -- to seminary, to post-seminary courses, to yeshiva, to the army, to marriage -- is always a challenge. As our children get older, parenting seems to be a constant process of letting go, of saying goodbye -- and of saying "welcome home" once again, with arms held open and the door swung wide.

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