How to Let Go and Let Your Children Grow Up
The first day my son backed down the driveway as a driver without me in the passenger seat to guide him, I watched through the window with tears streaming down my face. Sure, there was a part of me that was excited that we had embarked on a new season, where I didn’t have to drive him to every ball practice, school outing, or social event, but there was a bigger part of me that mourned the loss of the old season. I knew we would never go back to the days when I held him in my arms and sang him lullabies. We’d never be back in the season of kissing boo-boo’s and reading bedtime stories. There would never be another time of me holding his hand and dropping him at the front door of his elementary class. And my heart ached with that reality.
The day he started his senior year of high school, it was even worse. I knew this was the beginning of the end of an era. There would be no more high school basketball games, no more proms, and no more school projects that required my last-minute help. Each event was his last. I took those last prom pictures, fighting back the inevitable tears that were peppered with joy and loss. But the day he left for college was probably the worst! I thought my heart had just been ripped from my chest when I had to let my first-born go. I don’t say that to sound dramatic. I mean, it seemed like my world would never be the same.
The night before he left for his new dorm room, the family flocked into his bedroom and helped him sort through piles of clothes and belongings. We packed suitcases and duffle bags. We laughed about old times and told stories about when he got caught sneaking around. And after everyone had gone to bed, I knocked on my son’s door and asked if I could come in his room and just sit. We didn’t say much, just idle chit-chat, but I needed to just be there with him. The next morning we loaded the car and took him to college. We made the short drive to his campus, unloaded his things, and within an hour, drove away without him. He was obviously excited and distracted and the weight of our departure certainly didn’t affect him, the way it did me. On the way home, the tears came and came and came. The tears didn’t stop coming for weeks.
Whether you are letting go of a child that is transitioning into daycare or elementary school, college, or career, the feeling of transition can be unsettling. Nothing is natural about letting go of the hand of the little boy or girl that you birthed, reared, rocked, disciplined and encouraged. Nothing. It seemed I had been teaching my son for the last many years to learn to be independent and let go of my hand, only to realize that the one who would struggle with the release would be me, not him. Letting go of our children as they age into different seasons is one of the hardest things we will ever do, as moms. We feel comfortable cooking and cleaning and coaching and encouraging. There’s not much comfort in letting them go, but it is necessary. It is the natural order of things. It is God’s intention for our children to move on, explore, eventually leave the nest, and become strong men and women of God.
This journey of letting go has led to me learning a few facts along the way, and I thought I’d share them with you:
1. Don’t refuse to let them go for your own comfort.
Time and again, I’ve seen mothers who have struggled with the letting go season and fail to allow their children to move into the next season with grace. Maybe you guilt them with statements about how lonely you’ll be, so as to keep them closer to home with their college choice. Perhaps you make casual comments about how you won’t know what to do with yourself when they are gone. Let them go with grace. Don’t hinder their life’s fulfillment because of your own insecurities. Let them explore and learn and thrive and put into action all those wonderful things you’ve taught them.
2. They will mess up.
Part of my inability to let go of my young adult children was the fear that my children would not be perfect, wouldn’t measure up, or life would get hard, and they wouldn’t handle it well. It’s hard to even admit that to you now, because I cloaked that fear with the façade of legitimate concern. I told my Christian friends that I had given it all to God, but the truth was, I was secretly fretting day and night. Our children’s mistakes are life lessons, tools that equip them. No more. No less. How do they ever learn to become independent and thrive if we don’t give them room?
3. God knew our children long before we did.
We know this, but to embrace this is hard. To trust that God has better plans for our children than we do is hard. To understand that the love He has for them is more beautiful and strong than we even know is hard! God created them and knew them before they were even formed in our wombs (see Jeremiah 1:5) and this same God loves them more than comprehension. He gave them to us. It’s baffling to me, yet reassuring to know that my God, the God who formed Heaven and Earth, is the same God who is caring, leading, guiding and directing my children.
4. You will learn who you are!
I cried about my son’s departure to college probably much longer than I should have, and I had spontaneous tears even after I stopped the daily tear flow. And guess what? He only moved 45 minutes away that year! Then, the next year, I had to let my beautiful, first-born daughter go. The following year, I relocated my son to a new college 10 hours away! Guess what? My two young adult children are now over 20 hours away. And yes, I cried! I cried when they moved. But I can honestly say to you now, I have learned to beautiful art of letting go. I have begun to learn who I am apart from my role as mom. I’m beginning to explore new routines, new hobbies. Their departures from the nest didn’t kill me or hinder God’s plans for me. If anything, it has created a new journey of self-discovery in me and a deeper exploration of who God is and how his love abounds for his people and how to pray without ceasing.
I will not tell you that I don’t eagerly wait by the phone if I think my children are going to call or explode with excitement when they are coming home, but the fear of letting them go no longer disables me. In fact, their new adventures have given me great joy as I’ve celebrated their journeys to make their faith their own, launch new careers, and forge their own paths in life. And I lived to tell about!
Jennifer Maggio is a mom, wife, author, speaker, chauffeur, and dishwasher extraordinaire. She has a passion for hurting women and single mothers and wants to give them hope that comes only from Christ. She is the CEO and founder of The Life of a Single Mom Ministries, a national nonprofit for single mothers. For more information, visit www.jennifermaggio.com.