What is Courageous Parenting?
Leaving your 3 year old at school even when they are clinging to the desk begging you not to go.
Sending your 18 year old off to college.
That first time leaving your precious baby with a babysitter.
Handing them the cars keys on Friday night.
Letting them fall when they are learning to walk.
Allowing them to fail, when you know you have the answers.
Knowing when to push them and when to lay off.
Not trying to fix it when they get their heart broken.
Saying no when you know your No.
Watching them struggle and not saving them.
Loving unconditionally. No matter what.
Frankly, I think parenting is the most courageous job on earth. Eighteen years ago, when I decided to become a parent, I had no idea how much courage it would take to raise my children. Year after year, day after day, moment after moment, my children have invited me to exercise the muscle of courageous parenting in one way or another.
At the time I was not aware, but looking back now I can see that it took an amazing amount of courage to leave my son at preschool at the age of three while he clung to the leg of the table crying and begging me not to leave him. Each day I would leave heartbroken and fearful that I was doing something wrong or bad, or that I was ‘damaging' him in some way. I was a new parent and I hated seeing him “suffer.” Even more so, it pained me to think I was the cause.
Eighteen years later sometimes I long for the the days of clinging to table legs and begging me to stay. Bigger kids,bigger challenges.
Today this same table clinging, mom needing child couldn’t be more excited to get away—which is still 18 months away by the way!—to be free and go off on his own. And just like when he was three, my practice is in letting go, trusting and allowing.
Back then, I had to let go and leave him crying at school and trust it was not going to “damage" him. I needed to allow him to be afraid and see it was ok. And I had to face my own fear, while doing the same for him. He was not the only one who was scared. I was too.
Today and almost every day since, I continue to learn to do the same. Each day is a new opportunity to embrace my fears. Each day I am faced with the choice to let go or hold on. It is a courageous act to let go, and it is my deepest learning as a parent.
As we navigate what seems to be bigger life challenges, I continue to learn to let go of controlling him, trusting that he can make the best decisions for himself and that I have modeled well for him, and above all continue to allow him to learn from his own mistakes as he travels his way into adulthood.
Will he be ok? Will I be ok? Will we be ok? Will it be ok? The questions have not changed over the years, but time has taught me valuable lessons.
Deep down I know the answer. It takes no less courage along the way to be with fear when it arises. As far as I’m concerned, it’s part of our children’s job to bring out fear in us that we may learn to face it head on, hopefully with more courage over time.
My son has been diligently teaching me to be more courageous for the past 18 years.
If I’m lucky, the invitations to greater courage through letting go will keep coming as he, and all my children, fly away—reluctantly or enthusiastically—again and again.
For more on how to cultivate courage in your life, listen in here to my talk this month with Dr Shauna Shapiro.
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