Letting Go: Lessons From Football Star Ezekiel Elliot

I am the last person to throw stones at other parenting styles – I’m no expert and I certainly do not live in a glass house.

Some classmates of my oldest can walk home from school alone.  I, on the other hand, have chosen not to allow my 10 year-old to do so.

I watch and laugh as my wobbly toddler falls over as she finds her legs.  Others might break their little one’s fall.

There is no right or wrong answer – just different ways of trying to do the same thing: to raise great kids.

As I watch parents around me, I have come to realize that I’m not the only dad that struggles with the blurry line between being an overly protective, “helicopter” parent and allowing my children space to roam.

My kids are all under the age of 11, so I don’t have to worry about how they’ll handle independence yet.  I have no noteworthy experience in “letting go” as a parent.

Today, I’m a rightfully, hovering parent – involved in everything and pulling my kids’ social strings in concert with my wife.

I assume this is set to end rather quickly for my soon-to-be middle-schooler.  I feel like I’m ready for my son to do more for himself – albeit gradually.

There is no secret recipe for when and how to “let go” as a parent.

In an article that is set to appear in ESPN the Magazine in October, Stacy Elliot, the father of Dallas Cowboys’ star running back Ezekiel Elliot, discusses his intention to further step up rather than to let go.  He plans to actively protect his superstar son from the potential pitfalls of the bright lights he faces.

My initial reaction to reading the piece was to be dismissive of Mr. Elliot.  “Let him go, he’s grown,” I thought.

At this stage of fatherhood for me, it’s easy to be blindly courageous when I talk about my children gaining more freedom.  I can hear myself saying, “I’ll be fine letting them go.  I’d hope by that time, I’ve done a good enough job to instill right from wrong.”

I wonder if Stacy Elliot would have said the same when Ezekiel was in grade school.

My son will likely never sign a multi-million dollar NFL contract, but as he progresses through high school to college to his working life, will I be stepping up or stepping back?

Reading this piece has me thinking that I’ve been naive to assume that as my son strolls through the normal kid paces of growing, he will magically be ready for each next step.  It may be just as aimless to say that I’ll be ready to step away as my kids take those steps as they come.

The time to exit the helicopter is different for me than others – it may be different for each of my kids as they grow up.  That said, to be ready to let go, I’ll need a plan to eject before Mr. Elliot.

Absent a plan, my kids aren’t accountable and will be unprepared.

In the future, I don’t want to be calling college professors because my business major received a poor grade.  I don’t want to negotiate a lease with my child’s first landlord.

I do, however, want to be supportive – their first call if they need advice, or after they’ve tried their best to fix an issue that won’t go away.

I want my kid to call me about the bad grade he received.  In doing so, my son should leave our conversation understanding that he now has a big hill to climb in class.

Unlike Stacy Elliot, though, I will not aim to be chasing my son up that hill.

I will, like Mr. Elliot, be worried and scared for my kid.  All the while, hopeful that he succeeds as I stand at base camp, cheering him on from afar.

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