Letting Go

Letting Go

Letting Go

A Time to Let Go of the Adult Child
By Tomi Leslie

“Don’t forget. When your children are grown – – you must let go.” Mom’s protective words lay dormant like bullets loaded in my memory—until it was time for me to let go of my adult children.

For my oldest daughter, Julie, I wasn’t as prepared for her marriage as she was. At age eighteen years and six months, she suddenly belonged to her husband and they lived an hour away from our home. A fun daughter who brought sunshine into our lives was no longer sitting at our dinner table. Nor was she interrupting our daily predictability with her contagious spontaneity.

After her marriage, I struggled – – desiring to be the most prominent voice in her life, even though I knew that role belonged to her husband. So I practiced listening more and talking less. How did I practice? It helped me to replay her wedding in my mind, to recall the pastor’s words, “I pronounce you husband and wife.” And like I did not interrupt Julie’s marriage ceremony, I decided not to interrupt her marriage. But I remained one of her greatest encouragers and prayer soldiers. And when she asked me for advice, I provided it, while still considering my son-in-law. (Note: Still – – I have not mastered listening more and talking less.)

Next, I needed to let go of my son, Jeff. I wish I could report that I let go of him gradually and perfectly, but that would be a lie. Hindsight tells me that I waited too late. He was my eldest child—steady, calm, reliable and responsible. What is it about the mother and son relationship that makes it so difficult for moms to let go? Don’t we get it? We raise baby boys to grow up into men. One day they may embrace another woman, yet instead of loosening our grip on them, we tend to tighten it—especially after they reach puberty. Letting go of a son reminds me of when I hold a puppy too tight? First, the puppy wiggles. Second, it struggles to break free. Third, it leaps from my arms.

When I finally let go of my son, I hoped to communicate respect, trust and my belief in him. I hoped that letting go would thrust him on a course of independence to be the husband he was intended to be. Letting go of him also gave me a better appreciation of my daughter-in-law. I began to see how her unique gifts and strengths complemented my son’s, and what a blessing she was to me.

Our youngest daughter, Lori, is unlike our other two children. Letting her go wasn’t the primary issue. In her case, she needed a gentle shove to leave home. She was born nine years later than her siblings. Her personality is much like the protagonist character Anne Shirley in the novel, Anne of Green Gables. Lori is sensitive, insightful and a high achiever. And like Anne Shirley, the fictional character, Lori dreaded growing up. Our home became her comfort and security. But after she graduated from college and moved back in with us, her growth stalled. Our threesome family dynamic rapidly deteriorated to more like parent-child relationships than adult relationships.

Lori was convinced that she couldn’t afford to live away from home; but my husband and I challenged her thinking. Budgeting was more the issue than was the affordability. After seeking counsel, my husband and I decided it was best for her to find other living arrangements. Sounds harsh, right? Did it hurt her feelings? Yes. Did it harm her? No. She rented a studio apartment. Of course, she wasn’t crazy about relocating. Living in Southern California where it is socially acceptable for the educated and able-bodied twenty and thirty-year-olds to live at home indefinitely. (We understand that each family scenario is different, each child is unique.) But nudging Lori from our nest was the right decision for her, and for our marriage. Later, in preparation of her wedding, she moved back home for a few months. It was good. The three of us had grown in our relationship. We loved having her with us, and the opportunity to relate with our future son-in-law.

Letting go isn’t easy. I still remind myself to not hover over my adult children. To become like a helicopter when the engine is roaring and hot air is blowing. When I’m hovering over, I’m not seeing my children as independent adults. I’m tempted to treat them like a child—to ask, “Where are you going? Did you do this – – handle that?”

Yes, I will always be my children’s mother. And I’ll forever care about every detail of their lives. But God calls me to a different role. I’m to be their encourager, their prayer soldier. I admit, letting go appeared to be harsh and counterintuitive to my nurturing instincts. So when in doubt, I trusted my husband and other wise counselors. I sought the bigger picture for my children. I desired for each of them—to become independently dependent on God.

And for the perfect example of parenting I turned to the Heavenly Father. I noticed how He exemplified letting go. When Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, he was a son asking His Father to let the cup pass—to spare him from the excruciating death on the cross. Yet he asked for the Father’s will, not His will. (Matthew 26:39 NASB)

O’ the agony the Father must have felt when He forsook His child. For our salvation, our Heavenly Father let go of His Son. That single parental example of letting go turned our world upside down. What appeared to be a horrific victory for evil became a triumphant finality for good.

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16 NASB).