One of the things that we learn as children is that if you love something, you set it free. We’re taught to take care of our animals, be kind to insects that live outside and release butterflies after watching them emerge from a chrysalis. There is actually more to this saying which applies to our lives, our insecurities and relationships though: If you love something, set it free. If it comes back, it’s yours. If it doesn’t, it never was.
I tend to think of the full quote in terms of parenting my children, but you can apply it to relationships with friends, family, partners, students, whomever. I feel that it is my job to teach my children to be self-sufficient, kind, aware and contributing adults. I am not raising children, I am raising adults and in doing so, it is also my job to teach them not to need me. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t something that is supposed to happen when they’re 10 or 15. I mean that by the time they’ve reached adulthood, hopefully I’ll have taught them enough so that they can stand on their own two feet and not need me. I’d absolutely love if they WANT to be with me, but if they NEED to be with me, perhaps I still have some teaching to do.
I often tell my kids (currently 8 and 11) that I can’t wait to see what they’re going to do with their lives. I will be here, cheering them on and supporting them every step of the way. And I will be right here after I’ve set them free. Go to work, go to Europe, go to a concert – whatever you want to do – and I will be right here if you need something. This life belongs to you, not me. I am your soft place to fall if you need one. I am your stability in a crazy world. I will not walk the beautiful life path hand-in-hand with you because it’s yours to walk – but I am always right behind you if you begin to fall. If you don’t want me right behind you, that’s fine too. I can love you from a bit of a distance because the truth is, it is not about me.
In my opinion, we as parents owe it to our children to not only raise them and set them free into the world, but to teach them that we don’t need them to fill a void within us in order for us to have a good existence. I will always love my children. They will always be number one in my life, unequivocally. But I also think that it is a heavy burden for a child to feel like they have to limit themselves in order to take care of their parents. When my children are off on their own, it is then my job to find something else to do. They will eventually become my peers, although we will always be parent and child. And as their parent, if I don’t help them feel that I’m okay in their absence (not that anything else is more important than them ever, but that I’m content with hobbies, my husband, my work and my life), I haven’t been successful in setting them free. They deserve to live a life where they don’t feel that they owe me. They need to find out who they are and what they want to contribute to this world. And hopefully, if I can keep the lines of communication open and continue to nurture these extraordinary relationships, they’ll come back to me and tell me about it all.
Some of setting people free is actually giving the power of the results back to the universe. We have absolutely no control over what the response will be from the people we love. Will they come back? Were they ever ours? You can’t control that and if you try to, you haven’t truly set them free. All you can do is be open and loving and available to receive whatever, whenever, and at any time. Finding the confidence is not easy, but once you find it and truly own it, you will both empower the other person as well as yourself. Think about who has set you free and still offers a soft place to fall. A teacher? A parent? A coworker? Most of us have one or a few of those people. Be that person for someone else.