Life is full of opinions, contradictions, absolutes and ultimatums. So how in the world do we know what to believe, who to trust, when to let our instincts take over, and when to let go? How often have we come to a decision only to find ourselves questioned, criticized or thrown a huge road block just when we thought we were finally on course? What happened to that ‘letting go’ stuff that was supposed to make everything so serene??
As a parent, it can be really hard because we have an intense emotional connection with a loud and strong inner voice. Recently, I had one of those moments. Everything in my head, my logical side, clearly and definitively pointed to the next step. Yet my emotions were a jumbled, wavering, conflicted mess.
When our kids are sick, we will do whatever it takes to help them to get well. Sure, some of the stuff isn’t fun. Remember those well baby check-ups where our sweet, pudgy baby’s face transformed from smiles to screams from the obligatory shots? But the importance of protecting our baby’s health far outweighed a few tears. So when my daughters’ illness had a grip so tight that I could literally see the life fading from her day by day, there was no question that I would do whatever was necessary to save her. But when that meant seeking treatment away from home, my ability to ‘let go’ got pretty shaky. I recognized that I needed to stop being her case manager, I needed to stop playing amateur psychiatrist/therapist, and I needed to start just being her MOM. Yet my desire to protect her from any further pain clouded my judgment and made me question my decisions.
Every clinician and professional involved assured me that this was the right choice, that my daughter desperately needed 24/7 care. Even the insurance company agreed (for once). But when my daughter fought back, giving me one compelling and terrifying reason after another why residential treatment would only make things worse, my resolve waivered and nearly crumbled. A big part of me wanted to let go, not fight for treatment, just wrap my sweet, precious daughter up in a blanket, hold her, rock her, comfort her and take away by osmosis, every last shred of pain and anguish, illness and torment.
Late into the night I searched the internet, trying to find evidence of the horrific things she had told me about the treatment center. I half hoped that I would find the smoking gun that would allow me to abort our plans, to avoid the inevitable trauma and conflict that (I perceived) lay ahead. Ironically, the more I searched, the more I found support for why this program really was rock solid and one of the best available to help my daughter. No skeletons in the closet, no horror stories, the worst I found were some complaints about the billing department.
So, in the light of day, I had to let go of my fears, and hang on for dear life to the only hope left. And that required me to let go of my daughter, to entrust her care to strangers who could hopefully do what I could not. Save her life. Not just in the literal sense of keeping her alive, but also in giving her back a life that she could cherish. My daughter needed reasons to live. She needed reasons that came from within her, not external incentives or values leveraged by others. My motherly love alone could not save my daughter. She needed to love herself.
This type of letting go meant trusting my survival instincts, the ones that told me that my daughter’s illness was so severe, so lethal that in order for her to survive, others far more qualified needed to take charge. Letting go meant looking at the big picture, not getting caught up in the anguish of the moment, or clinging to each small, fleeting, glimmer of hope. Letting go meant taking a huge leap of faith that as agonizing and painful it was the temporary pain would be worth the longer term outcome.
I can now say that for all of my doubts and fears, taking that leap of faith proved to be unequivocally the right thing. As I will share in part 3, I continue to be faced with conflicts over what it means to let go. But what is emerging (for me) is a pattern that I hope will become a template to help me understand what I try to hang onto and why. At least I’m learning to ask myself the right questions.
Nanci Schiman is a licensed social worker with a Master’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She has over 12 years’ professional experience in child and adolescent mental health, family support, advocacy, writing, public speaking and collaborating with local and national mental health organizations. On a personal level Nanci has three daughters ages 17, 19 and 21. The oldest and youngest were diagnosed with mood disorders at ages 9 and 10 respectively.