Being a mom means learning to let go. Each stage of our children's lives gives us practice cutting those imaginary umbilical cords.

Being a mom means learning to let go.

Each stage of our children's lives gives us practice cutting those imaginary umbilical cords.

We have to let go when we send them off to kindergarten, when they spend their first night in the care of another, when they leave for college, get married or go off to war.

I recently watched a friend practice letting go when her youngest son starting taking risks, like jumping off rocks to float down the river.

In my own struggles to learn about letting go, I've realized it's good to listen to those who have traveled the road before. These moms have taught me how important it is to reflect, stay focused on health and stay connected with honest and faithful friends.

It has been said that "often we need to look at where we have been to get where we are going." Looking at our own maternal histories of being mothered can be very telling.

I recently spent the weekend with a Native-American friend who encouraged me to read "The Woman Who Gave Birth To Her Mother" by Kim Chernin.

We both come from very matriarchal Native-American mothers and, while we agree they provided a lot of good modeling, there are some things we have had to change in our own styles of parenting.

I was proud to see her let go of some of her fears — she is the friend whose son jumped off the rocks — and it proved to us both that she's going to do just fine as she sends her son off to junior high this coming year.

I know another woman who recently received word from her grandson that he has landed in Kuwait and is waiting for deployment to Iraq. She said she could make herself sick with worry but instead is taking this time in her life to make some healthy changes. She's joined a fitness club and a support group for families of military personnel. She's making sure that she's eating and sleeping well. She's well aware of research that shows exercise, prayer and meditation help with heart disease and obesity while increasing a person's overall sense of well-being.

Health, it has been said, is a gift we give to ourselves and to our children. Whole parents produce whole children.

In the same vein, friendships strengthen a mother's ability to parent. When I was struggling with the thought of leaving my first child in the care of another, a friend taught me that kids want to see their mothers act confidently and need to see in their mothers' eyes that they believe the future is bright.

"These kids are scared," she said, "and the last thing they need to see in the adults around them is fear."

My friend is a kindergarten teacher, and she said that many times, on the first day of school, she has handed mothers a tissue and sent them quickly on their way.

She said if I wasn't careful, I would unknowingly prevent my children from flying far and free. As my oldest leaves for college next summer, I might need to call her for a reminder.

There is an old Czechoslovakian proverb that says, "Friends are much better at protecting than even the strongest of fences."

True friends will tell you when you need to "chill," validate you and your children and speak the truth in love. It is helpful to find a couple confidantes with whom you can express your fears and concerns. I know I would have made many more parenting mistakes if I hadn't had the support and nurturing of my sisters and close friends.

Practice with self-reflection, keeping our own health a priority. Opening up to other women with similar parenting values can help us and our children on this journey toward growth.