Holding Tight, Letting Go is about taking off the training wheels. It’s about the necessary and natural tension that defines growing up and growing apart.
It’s about the constantly shifting pressure between separation and reunion. Being together and being apart. “Me” versus “us.” It’s about the back-and-forth two-step that describes every parent-child relationship everywhere through all of time. Whether it’s the baby’s first steps or the teenager’s first date, or the simple, repetitive, and frustrating process of getting her off to school in the morning, the dance is the same.
You push her away but she clings and cries. She pulls away but you demand that she stay. Somehow, through all the fear and excitement, tears and yelling, terror and pride, the ambivalence resolves. The milestone is achieved. The training wheels come off. The sleepover is managed. the first day passes. The milestone is accomplished and then on to the next. Two steps forward, one step back in the best of times and gradually, back and forth, parent and child master another degree of freedom.
Along the way, roles change. Rules are modified. Relationships are redefined. It’s not only about how children grow up, but also about how families grow up. How identity shapes personality and both adapt in the context of relationships. It’s not only about how parents shape who their children become, but how our children shape who we are as well.
This dance of ambivalence is the essential drama of humanity, replayed over and over again from that first cry of birth through our last breath. It’s the tug-of-war that echoes through all of our lives and all of our relationships. It’s how identity emerges, self-esteem is built, and confidence is fueled. It’s how we, as parents, manage and communicate our anxiety to our kids in healthy ways so that they can do the same someday with theirs.
When we let our bike riding child go, we know they are going to tumble and cry and look for reassurance. We need to find a safe and healthy balance between holding tight and letting go, crossing fingers and holding breath and hoping they will be okay. It’s about trusting that all the lessons you’ve taught your child will be enough because the world that they are inheriting is at least as full of beauty as it is of danger.
Excerpt from Holding Tight, Letting Go: Raising Healthy Kids in Anxious Times. By Benjamin D. Garber, Ph.D. Unhooked Books, High Conflict Institute Press.