Wednesday, August 22, 2012

letting go of our kids–week one


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Today’s post is the first in a four-part series on Letting go of our Kids. Only I prefer to think of it as a casual chat, just me sharing a few thoughts with you about the delicate balance of holding on and letting go of our kids. Ours is an amazing journey when you stop and think about it, and in the next three Thursdays, I’d like to explore the letting go experience, from a mother’s perspective.

Would you like to join in?

I have two simple thoughts to begin the conversation.

  1. Motherhood changes you forever
  2. Motherhood is one continual lesson on letting go



Untitled-1motherhood blue (adapted from, Why I pray to the Blessed Mother)

Motherhood changes you forever. 

Can you relate to these words?

Motherhood constantly challenges you to face yourself. To define your values and feelings and opinions, every step of the way. In the beginning it’s easier because so many of the questions are about our child’s basic needs.

But it gets tricky as they grow older. We’re forced to keep ourselves in check. To develop an identity separate from our children so we don’t risk swallowing them up in all the wrong ways. In order to love in a healthy way, we have to know where we end and they begin. We have to have boundaries that respect our child’s emerging self.

I like Anna Quindlen’s quote on parenting because it’s a self-less kind of love:

“Being a parent is not transactional. We do not get what we give. It is the ultimate pay-it-forward endeavor. We are good parents not so they will be loving enough to stay with us but so they will be strong enough to leave us.”


This is a pretty amazing view of parenting.

What do you think about the idea that parents don’t necessarily  “get what we give?”

Is this how you were raised? And what about the “pay-it-forward concept?” I think we could spend an entire post discussing the kind of love described in this quote.




  Motherhood is one long lesson on letting go…

This is what I think. It doesn’t matter what age your child is—whether you’re peeking through the windows of a smudgy grade-school window before walking wistfully away, or sending them to off to camp, or hugging your college kid good-bye when you drop them at school. A mother’s heart doesn’t register any difference.

Motherhood is simply one continual lesson on letting go.

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There are two ways to let go of our kids, there’s the letting go in terms of physical distance, and letting go in an emotional sense, as in our need to control, and worry and hover over, and be overly involved, especially at stages when we should be encouraging independence.

Everyone deals with the emotions of letting go of their children in their own way, although most of us recognize an ebb and flow to the process.

Holding on emotionally is a slippery slope; it’s easy to become a ‘helicopter parent’ and label it as love. As a mother you’re constantly encouraging them forward. Watching. Feeling nervous. Will your child be OK? Will you?  Your child’s success becomes so important, you have a hard time backing away. Letting them fail.

Letting them go physically can be hard, because when our kids are with us, our identity is intact. We’re always mothers at our core. So letting go is fraught with emotional conflict. Please go, you’re-driving-me-crazy. No-don’t go-I’ll-miss-you-so-much.

I keep stumbling on Mommy bloggers expressing these dichotomous feelings when they write about their kids going back to school; they jokingly mention relief at having “Me” time and clean rooms, yet they hint at emotions beneath the surface, wispy sadness that comes along with a quiet house.

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I keep listening to my friends share details of dropping off their last child at college. And it’s all there, excitement for their growing-up-kid and in the next breath, the expectation of text messages that will help bridge the miles. And ease the empty spot in their hearts.

And of course, there’s my own cell phone that’s always next to my bed at night, just in case. My cell phone has become my new umbilical cord, it helps me feel a connection to my own son, just by its presence, and it exposes my deepest hopes. Go … but don’t forget me. I’m here.

The need to feel connected is like water and food for a mother’s soul.

That’s why the inevitable question that every empty nester gets is, “How’re you doing?” which is always code for, “How are you feeling?”

Because here is the emotional truth about letting go of our kids. You will always feel it. Every time your child enters another stage, embarks on a new experience, goes into a new environment, it forces you to adapt, to cope, and to feel new things. A mother is like real life Gumby doll, we’re forever stretching ourselves around our child’s expanding life. Adjusting to our child’s needs. Their talents. Their dreams.

And motherhood is a delicate dance between loving and letting go. And knowing when to do both.



A final thought…

When I was a newbie therapist in my twenties, I didn’t have my kids yet. But I had an intellectual suitcase filled with the latest research on emotional development, theories of attachment, dysfunctional communication styles, etc. It was all the stuff that was intended to help people form deeper bonds with each other, and to help parents connect with their kids.

But I find it interesting now, that there wasn’t a lot of information for parents struggling to let go. To pull back at various stages of child rearing. To understand how crucial it is not to get so swept up in your child’s life, that you stop seeing who they really are, and instead, see only what you need or want them to be. For you.

The truth is, our kids are not in this world to complete our unfinished dreams. To be the star athlete we never were. Or to make us proud. Or to go to the college we never went to; or to move down the street from us so we won’t miss them.

That’s why the topic of letting go of our kids is so wonderful. It keeps us asking the right questions, mostly about ourselves.


How about you? Can you relate?



I’d love to hear your opinions and thoughts about this post.


I’m linking up to:



Angie said...

What an absolutely beautiful, touching and oh so true post! My oldest son is in his senior year of high school and we are applying to colleges and such...I can't imagine how I will feel when he leaves a year from now. But I know I must let go and trust that he is in good hands! Thank you for these wonderful words of wisdom...Angie

Julie said... reading/responding to my brother's post lead me to your post. What amazing words and wisdom. I struggle with this everyday. Thank you for leading me here. A sure sign from above that I do need to let go more :) I already knew it, but needed this! My girls are 12 & 10...XO ~ Julie

Anita at Cedar Hill said...

Very lovely post. I think some moms have a more difficult time than others. I am very close to my 16-year-old daughter, but I will be okay, when the time comes. I will still have my Leesie here. And having a child that won't be moving out, helps me to understand better than most; it's good thing to see your child become independent and move out.

Catherine said...

Such a great post. My son is only 13 months old and already I'm finding it hard to 'let go' in some ways as he grows, develops and becomes his own person.

By the way, I don't know if you take much stock in this type of thing but I do adore reading your blog and wanted to give you a 'versatile blogger award' as a way of thanking you for your blog posts. The 'award' is given by fellow bloggers and I was lucky enough to receive it myself and I now have the honour of choosing other bloggers to also receive it, and you were top of my list! You can find out more about it here if you wish:

Liberty said...

needed this today! thanks for the healthy perspective as I wade through unknown waters of parenting a teenager!

Tami Von Zalez said...

Ah yes, it is a tough transition to empty nest. Best thing to do - start blogging!

Aloha - popped in from the blog hop.

Richella Parham said...

Well said! Letting go is hard--but crucial. My husband likes to remind me that we're bringing our boys up to be men!

liz said...

Can I ever relate! My daughter is 19 and still living at home (thank God!) but starting her first job. Just having her be out and about without me...stopping at the store on the way home (you know every weirdo story you ever heard comes back to your mind at this point). And I'm doing this alone - single parent. It came upon me so suddenly it seemed. We homeschooled, so were always together. I know this is all a good thing, but OH so hard. Thanks for the post, it was so helpful in naming all my feelings :)

koehler/newell said...

What a fabulous way to state a situation which all mothers must face one day. Both of my sons went "away" to college. They are wonderful men in every sense of the word. BUT, do they call me all the time? NO. Do they call me with regularity? NO. Does it bother me? Sure, but they have their own lives. But nothing has prepared me for the next level ever. I am so glad you have this blog to help others go through this process. I wish you had been around in the 80s when my kids went off to college.

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