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The Release Teaches

From the desk of Alice…

It’s graduation season which always makes me reflective.  This year my oldest child graduates high school and one of my nieces graduated college recently so I am currently immersed in conversations about announcements, ceremonies and celebrations.   And please bear with me…in honor of Mother’s Day, I am going to wear my Mom Hat for the rest of this blog.

I recently had the opportunity to be a student myself in a clinic (class) for barn moms.  The horse world is an area where I am truly an emergent learner and it helps me get in touch with the entire process of being a student.  While in this clinic, the instructor kept repeating the following phrase across the day, “pressure motivates, the release teaches.”

Did you hear that?

Pressure motivates.

The release teaches.

Wow. So simple but so complex.

Our instructor was trying to help us understand how to apply appropriate pressure to our horses to teach them the behavior we wanted, but also release them at the appropriate time to reinforce the learning.  She was diligent about having us notice and note the actions of the horses that indicated learning on their part.  She was also very clear about our leadership with our horse and how we have to adjust it based on the behaviors we saw in our horse.  This sounded a lot like parenting to me!

This was a very effective technique with the horses and I was amazed several times at how quickly she molded us into horse whisperers.   As I drove home that afternoon, tired, dirty, sun-kissed, and oddly satisfied with the learning that had taken place, I kept thinking about how this applies to my mom world.   I see this cycle repeating itself over and over again over the years with my own children, depending on the developmental milestone.  It seems so relevant that this was this lesson during the weeks leading up to a huge release of my oldest child: leaving home.

As a parent, I have worked on motivation daily.  Getting up, getting to school, doing the homework, getting to the extra-curricular stuff, the projects (oh-those projects!) and then repeating.  You have to be motivated to make it happen.  At a certain point the motivation takes hold and our children no longer need us to do the things they have been able to internalize.

The release teaches.

At some point, I let go of brushing teeth, holding hands, and packing lunches.  Somehow, I decided it was ok to allow her to monitor herself and make big decisions like driving herself down the road and where she should go to college.  None of this is without bumps and mistakes and a few raised voices.  Our instructor that day at the barn explained in detail if you release too early, you can reinforce bad behaviors.  If you release too late, the learning does not happen efficiently.  The timing of the release is important.  As a mom, I have sometimes learned this the hard way.

As she walks across the graduation stage in a few weeks, the pressure is now off.  The timing is right.  She will close the door on high school and open one for college.  And I will remind myself that things often work out exactly right.

The pressure will motivate and the release will teach.

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