I STOOD AT the door, prepared to accompany my six-year-old daughter to the bus stop for her first day of school.
I wasn't prepared for what happened next.
"Mom," she said, "would it be all right with you if I go to the bus stop all by myself?"
Several replies were on the tip of my tongue, when I suddenly heard myself answer, "Sure. You go ahead and have a wonderful day at school. I'll be waiting for you when you get home."
I watched her through the window as she ran toward the other kids and parents at the bus stop.
I stood there keeping an eye on her and struggling with what had happened. On one hand, she had the enthusiasm and courage to proceed into unchartered territory, but on the other hand, I was not going to be there with her.
Throughout that morning, I thought about my daughter's desire for independence versus my feeling of being left behind.
It was a mental tug of war.
Looking honestly at the entire picture, it dawned on me that I was having difficulty with a normal and natural occurrence. As soon as I realized this, I was able to go about the rest of my day, unconcerned.
That daughter is now in college, and looking back I realize that that morning was one of the most important moments she and I ever shared.
It set a precedent for the many times when I had to let go, not only of that daughter, but her younger sister as well.
When my daughters were quite young, their father and I divorced, and occasionally they would visit him. One weekend I put on a brave face and dressed them up so they could accompany their father and his date to a musical.
They were hesitant about going, especially since an unknown woman was going with them. But we laughed and joked, and I sent them off with a happy and expectant outlook for the weekend. Once they were out the door, however, I broke down and sobbed.
I called a friend and poured out my story, hoping she would help me see a way out of this mess. As much as I didn't want to hear it, she suggested that I had a choice to make.
I argued with her and myself: After all, wasn't I just a mother who wanted to protect and shield her children? But that argument was a flimsy excuse. What I really felt was left out and sorry for myself. I had to change the way I thought about the situation.
Deep down, I had to admit that there were going to be countless occasions in my children's lives when I was not going to be with them.
I slowly began to let go of the feelings I had held onto all evening.
Bit by bit, the burden lifted, and I once again felt peaceful. And I was genuinely pleased when later my daughters told me they had an enjoyable evening.
I can truthfully say that I no longer struggle to let go of my children when the necessary occasions or stages of growth present themselves. And as many times as we have said goodbye to each other, there are no feelings of sadness or loss on either side.
As a mother, I can't begin to measure my gratitude for getting past this challenge.
We, as parents, have to step back constantly and allow our children the opportunity of experiencing, in degrees, the joys and rewards of individual freedom. Not freedom from obeying parental guidelines or freedom to do whatever they want, but freedom from constantly having a parent on the scene.
Letting go may be challenging, but when we do, we not only allow our children to soar, but, as I discovered, we free ourselves, as well.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society