I was cared by a nanny for the first 3 years of my life. It was a difficult time in my family whereby an older sibling was dying of an illness and my parents had to work very hard to make ends meet.
When I could finally go home to be with my family, the 3-year-old me could not understand why I must leave my nanny. Up until then, my nanny was my world. I felt her love and affection towards me, and I enjoyed being with her every day. But she had to let me go back to my parents. “You have to go home, because your mother paid me to take care of you,” she told me.
My world shattered. I thought she didn’t want me anymore. I thought she only did it for money. I thought maybe all the love that I have received in my 3 years with her wasn’t real and that I didn’t matter to her. And so, gradually, I stopped asking to visit her. Eventually, I stopped talking or thinking about her.
I thought I have forgotten her. But how can you forget your first love?
As an adult now, I could look back and thank my nanny for those 3 precious years under her care and protection. She loved me as her own. She took me into her house when my parents couldn’t manage, and when the time came to return me to my parents’ care, she chose to put aside her personal interest, and did what she thought best for me, which was to go home with my family.
What my nanny showed me in her letting go of me is that you can love someone deeply, and still choose to release them, instead of possessing them. That’s the kind of unconditional love that good parents show to their kids. The parents have to be secure and strong enough to hold themselves, so their kids do not have to worry about them and this enable the kids to grow healthily and develop their own life and interests. And as the child grows into young adulthood, he/she must also show the parents that he/she is mature and ready to launch into the unknown future without the parents. It’s a bittersweet experience. But when done well, it’s a liberating experience for both parties!
Releasing love is not the same as romantic love. Releasing love is about FREEDOM. When you free someone, you free yourself as well. In contrast, romantic love is often about POSSESSION. When you possess (or think you possess) someone, you are possessed as well.
In releasing love, every holding on requires freedom to hold lightly. And every letting go requires freedom to place it down lightly, with care.
Every act of freedom is LOVE.
Sometimes it may not feel so… It may feel like a rejection, abandonment, neglect or uncaring acts… But only the heart knows, sometimes not immediately, but eventually, for sure.
That when we can think back what this person has done and not done, and still feel very grateful to have met this person, we know – love was already present.
And love can continue to linger in our hearts for a long long time, even when we no longer see or talk with this person again.
As Cynthia Bougault’s book calls it: “Love Is Stronger Than Death”!
Article by Dr. Ng Wai Sheng