Learning when to let go & hold on as a parent

So proud of Madelyn!

Even though Madelyn slept soundly last night, I woke up at various times worrying about her first full day of daycare.

Would she cry most of the day? Would she eat well for the teachers? Would she be able to nap in a new crib, surrounding by nine other babies? How do you get 10 babies to all sleep at the same time? Wouldn’t the cacophony of crying and cooing keep them awake?

These are the rabbit-hole questions that keep a mom up at night when she’s faced with one of the first big letting-go’s of motherhood. Too many moms have to experience this moment much earlier, when their babies are just weeks old, due to subpar or nonexistent maternity leave options. I’ve been lucky enough to have a job that lets me work from home, and a nanny who gave Madelyn 1:1 attention and care.

Moving to Austin earlier this month prompted me and Troy to look into different childcare options. We briefly considered looking for another nanny but ultimately decided daycare would be best. Madelyn would learn to be more independent and to socialize with other babies. She’d engage in arts and crafts. Music time. Story time.

When I dropped Madelyn off at daycare this morning, she cried. I cried. As I stood in the lobby sobbing next to another mom who had dropped off her baby for the first time, the school administrators assured me that Madelyn would be ok and that I could call and check on her as many times as I wanted. I called only once, but worked half the day from a Starbucks across the street. I needed to be nearby, to occupy the space between holding on and letting go.

It was cold and rainy when I dropped Madelyn off this morning. The weather matched our mood.
It was cold and rainy when I dropped Madelyn off this morning. The weather matched our mood.

As I thought about Madelyn throughout the day, I was reminded of the first time I rode my bike without training wheels. I peddled on my big-girl bike, while my dad held onto the back of the seat. As we approached a small hill at the end of the quiet street I grew up on, I flirted with courage.

“Daddy, I want to ride down the hill. Let go!”

He was worried. Would I lose my balance? What if my brakes gave out? What if I fell off, tumbled down the hill, and broke a bone? Multiple bones?!

It turns out, I was just fine. More than fine, actually. In a wobbly way, I flew down the hill with a big smile on my face and then stopped at the bottom, injury-free.

“I did it, daddy!” I proudly exclaimed. I had found my balance. My dad probably found some semblance of it too that day.

He recalled this experience in a note he wrote me a few years ago around the holidays. It was the first year I wouldn’t be home for Christmas because I had plans to spend it with Troy’s family in Texas.

“Every time I ‘let go’ I think of it as ‘let grow’; it makes it easier for me. Being the sentimentalist that I am, I reminisced about the times that I have let go of you in your life,” dad wrote.

“I remember so well the first time that I let go of your hands when you were learning to walk, knowing that you would fall, but you didn’t. I remember bringing you on your bike to [the neighbor’s] driveway for the first time without training wheels. I gave you a little push, knowing that within 10 feet you would fall, and Mom would come rushing to your aid to wipe away your tears. You never fell. Instead, you made it all the way down the street. It was Mom and I who had tears in our eyes.

“I remember the first time you drove out of the driveway in the Tempo alone for your first time. I was concerned, but I knew that I had to let you go.

“I remember letting go of you on your first day at Providence College, as you walked toward the dining hall, while Gramz and I stood there teary-eyed watching you walk away. When you graduated from Providence College, I wanted so much to keep you close by, but I knew letting go of you so that you could go to Florida was what I needed to do.

“Mallary, every time that I have let you go, I have watched you grow. You may look up to me for inspiration, but I look up to you for my inspiration.”

I resurfaced and reread my dad’s note today not as a daughter but as a mother. I could relate to it on a different level and couldn’t help but be grateful that life’s big letting go’s are often spaced out. I’m finding, though, that the delicate dance of learning when to hold on and when to let grow is constant. And it’s far from graceful.

Sometimes we let go too soon and fall flat on our butts. Or we hold on too tightly for too long until our hands and hearts hurt. Other times we let go at just the right time, even though it feels painfully soon. These actions require us to consider who’s leading our moves and who we’re trying to protect — ourselves or our children. They’re an act of trust — in the process and in our child’s ability to let us know when it’s time to take the next step and when we’ve made the right move.

When I picked Madelyn up today, I peeked through the window to the daycare room and saw her sitting at a mini table eating her afternoon snack. She seemed content but then started crying when she saw me come in. She held out her arms and wrapped them around my neck.

I held on tight.

Published by Mallary Tenore Tarpley

Mallary is a mom of two young kiddos -- Madelyn and Tucker. Mallary absolutely loves being a mom and often writes about the need to find harmony when juggling motherhood and work. Mallary is the Assistant Director of the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas at the University of Texas at Austin, where she manages the Center's various programs related to distance learning, freedom of expression, and digital journalism. Previously, she was Executive Director of Images & Voices of Hope and Managing Editor of The Poynter Institute’s media news site, Poynter.org. Mallary grew up outside of Boston and graduated from Providence College in Rhode Island. In 2015, she received a certificate in nonprofit management from Duke University. She now lives in beautiful Austin, Texas, with her kids, husband Troy and cat Clara. She's working on a memoir, slowly but surely. You can reach her at mjtenore@gmail.com.

4 thoughts on “Learning when to let go & hold on as a parent

  1. Oh Mallary, I am so lucky to know you and your Dad! It makes it easy for me to visualize each of you as you do your dance of let go and let grow. As always, beautifully written. Thanks for sharing as I am in my own dance with my nephew, Will. ❤️U


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