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Kristin Armstrong Embraces the Art of Letting Go as a Parent

“I have to trust her to find her wings, even if in doing so she flies far from home. And as she finds her wings, I remember to spread my own."

illustration hand catching feather

I know myself well enough to know that when there is a subject that makes me want to withdraw, it is an indication that it’s time for me to lean in.

I have been learning the art of Loving and Letting Go since 2003, when my little people — ages three, one and one — would go to their dad’s for E.O.W. (*every other weekend). Or, even harder, for holidays and extended time in the summer. Everything in me would want to grip and hold on for dear life, but what was needed was for me to release with love. At first, I smiled and held my tears for later, after they were gone. I did not know what to do with myself, in my silent, empty, clean house.

MORE: How Kristin Armstrong Found Love by Getting Out of Her Own Way

Over time I was forced to create a life and identity for myself, something other than Luke, Grace and Isabelle’s mother. I had to reclaim and inhabit Kristin. Over time I learned to appreciate the time with me, even if I always missed them. There is a tendency, if you are lonely in your marriage or have drifted from your purpose, to focus too much of yourself on your children, and there’s a high risk of getting lost in the in-between. A tendency to build a life around school schedules, errands, birthdays and holidays. A few hours of pre-school yields enough time to exercise, shower and hit the grocery store before returning to the pick-up line. Elementary school expands that time, but it’s possible we don’t expand with it. Middle school and high school are long hours with them gone, and on weekends they are busy with sports and friends. And then, in a blink, you move them into a dorm. If you haven’t been cultivating your marriage, your own life, your purpose or your Self, this can be a major upset. I see it all the time in friends and clients.

When we let go, we create the potential for a chosen return.

I say that with the highest level of compassion, because were it not for the gift of divorce (which only seems a gift in retrospect — I like to say “good gift, ugly wrapping paper”) I love my people so much I can see that I would have gotten lost in them, probably gripped them too tightly.

There was a time when one of my daughters announced she wanted to spend her senior year in Colorado where her dad lives. I felt the mayday of a complete tailspin, no way I could let my girl go when I only had one year left with her at home. My first reaction was admittedly not my finest. I clutched and refused and was angry; my immaturity made more evident in contrast to her calm. I realized that it wasn’t the miles that would put distance between us, it was my behavior. I regrouped, took her out to dinner one night, and told her I believed in her and respected what she thought was best for her. I overrode my small self, and I set her free. Watching her drive away on a morning in early June was gut wrenching, smiling and waving with tears streaming down my face. I will never forget the feeling, a physical ache, like a piece of me was driving away. I guess it wouldn’t qualify as courage if it weren’t hard and scary as hell. We were both courageous that day.

Years later, our friendship is a testament to the art of Loving and Letting Go. When we let go, we create the potential for a chosen return. Real relationship and connection between parents and adult children is only and always free choice, not an entitlement or a response to guilt. It’s a return on investment of the highest order. A sacred gift not to be taken lightly.

MORE: Kristin Armstrong on Loss of Friendship and How to Heal

I remember the morning my other daughter, my last chick in the nest, moved into college. I went for a run before we began our drive north, and felt the heavy feeling of a dam of tears threatening to burst. A white feather floated directly in front of my face; I grabbed it and smiled. Years later, that feather is still the bookmark in my journal. It remains a sign from the heavens that I could, we could, do this. It was time to fly.

Tribeza columnist, author and counselor Kristin Armstrong.

Recently, I received more education in the rigorous curriculum of Loving and Letting Go. Of setting boundaries with a shaking voice and a deep breath, allowing for freedom, respect and the space to grow up. I feel the familiar stomach-twist-heart-drop, which lets me know the depth of the lesson — for both of us. The situation is different, but the pain is familiar. I think about her more times a day than I can count. I close my eyes and breathe through the pain-wave until it passes, and try to override my small self once again. I choose to send her love and light and belief, in place of resistance and worry.

I have to trust her to find her wings, even if in doing so she flies far from home. And as she finds her wings, I remember to spread my own.

My baby girl and I, still trying to feel our feathers. Still trying to balance our love for a nest and the freedom of the sky.

Fly baby, fly.