On Lengthening the Leash and Nearly Losing My Mind

I sit on the front porch swing after they have climbed the path they’ve made in the vines. They are less than 50 yards away, but they might as well be another world away. These days in parenting I am trying to find the delicate balance between permission and prohibition. My boys are leaving the kinder years (as in kindergarten, although they are kind years as well) and entering into true boyhood. They have read and adored My Side of the Mountain and Robinson Crusoe and are in the process of devouring The Swiss Family Robinson. They are in love with all things quest and adventure. They are forming a little tribe in the neighborhood, which is right and healthy based on the books I have read about boys.

The problem is that no book prepares you for what it feels like to begin loosening the leashes of your children, bit by bit. For the better part of eight years, I have been barely a shadow’s breadth away from these little fellas, with the exception of a few half-day camps each summer.

Virginia Woolf said that her mother was “in the very center of that great cathedral space that was childhood.”  And during the early barnacle years, which have their own charm and challenges, this is right and good.  However, as my boys age, I am trying to step aside from being dead center in their lives, and I am nearly losing my mind. Some days I am nearly losing my mind with wonder and excitement in seeing them discover and engage the world beyond our walls, but other days I nearly lose my mind with fear and anxiety and the loss of control.

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The tribe has spent these past few weeks of summer building a “fort,” which here in California, the land of expensive property and no yards, is actually a small outcropping on a tiny strip of canyon on our street. I find myself nervously checking on them every 30 minutes, like a little cuckoo clock, poking my head into the trees and vines to make sure no one has lost a limb or learned a new word they need not know.

My growing boys desperately need two things from me that are hard to hand out in consistent, healthy doses. They need permission to explore and engage with their friends away from my hawk eyes. But they also need prohibition, they still need me to help interpret their experiences, give them firm boundaries and seek to protect them in age-appropriate ways.

I am so very thankful that God provides both permission and prohibition to me. In so doing, He gives me a model to follow. His love doesn’t suffocate or force itself. He gives us space to explore, to try and to fail. He lets our love come to seek him. Frederick Beuchner captures this beautifully in The Dwarves in the Stable.

“The power that created the universe and spun the dragonfly’s wing and is beyond all other powers holds back, I think, in love, from overpowering us.”

Yet God is always right there, less than a breath away, ready for our presence, our questions, our concerns.

I don’t want to overpower my children with my presence or demands, but I also don’t want to completely flee the scene. I want to be waiting and ready, creating a home and a place of security and joy that they constantly run back to after their short spurts exploring and learning on their own.

Lord, only by your grace  will I be able to lengthen the cords of love enough to let these boys become the men you intend on making them while also staying present and providing needed prohibition.

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