Home / The Worst Parenting Advice Ever: “Let Them Go”

The Worst Parenting Advice Ever: “Let Them Go”

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My oldest daughter just moved away a few months ago to the other side of the world. I will see her in July sometime, but I am a mother and I want to hold my child right this minute.

When they were very young and took all of my time and energy, I humorously lamented that I couldn't wait for my kids to get jobs and get out.

Then they started school.

One little taste of that bitter dish was enough to humble me into never kidding around again. Then they started jobs, began traveling, and went to college. More bitter tastes.

But in between, there were millions of sweet moments.

Savoring the moments was serious business and as it turned out, an awful lot of fun.

To this day, I contend the older two were two and three-years-old for ten years.

I still don't miss waking up at 5 am to messes made by two toddlers who seemed to make it their goal in life to operate on as little sleep as possible.

I do miss the way they smelled (most times) and the soft squeaky lilt of their voices when they weren't at each other's throats or whining that bedtime had come yet again.

We marry spouses (generally and preferably) when they are grown people. We aren't faced with and we don't measure who they are today against the memories of having them in our arms as a tiny person, seeing them walk for the first time, going off to kindergarten, or learning to drive.

Be it to divorce or death, we lose our spouses but once.

We lose our children over and over, such that by the time they're really grown, it's not that we don't want to let go of them, it's that we're weary from the many times we've already let them go.

I will assert from my heart of hearts, the heart that has heard the words "I want a divorce," "I had an affair," and "I don't want to be a father and a husband anymore," that "Let them go" simply does not apply to children. Sure it applies to every other person on the planet, many of whom are a lot easier to wipe off than others, but at no time does it apply to our children.

I may be wrong, but I assess those who offer said unsolicited advice as needing to distance themselves emotionally so that any goodbye is easier to stomach — even if comes at the cost of their relationships with their children.

The physical manifestation of that which we know has been happening all along is just flat out hard — and harder if your child has been a royal (and later redeemed) pain in the ass. Our child(ren) is the product of years of time, effort, and investment. When it's going or gone, who dares to say we cannot or should not grieve?

A child does at one time crawl away, walk away, drive away, and finally move away — all things they couldn't have accomplished had we not "let them go" time and time and time again.

When they do move away, it's sometimes a whole lot further than any pair of legs or car could ever take them. This time, they take with them their hopes and dreams, wants and needs, knowledge and skills.

They leave behind a hollow space where at the bottom rests a drawing of their mother, something they drew with every color in the box when they were five years old.

I didn't realize until recently that I'd been raising myself right along with the kids. They weren't the only ones unable to walk or talk. I wasn't very good at using my legs to get away from people who didn't really care about me and I wasn't very good at communicating my needs. Now I am, and it's almost all due to the skills I acquired in the course of raising my children. I am who I am because of them.

When I was little, I was someone's sister, daughter, granddaughter, and cousin. I was the blonde neighbor, the tall girl in class, and the last one to reach puberty. I was rarely a person. When my kids were little, I defined myself as a mother first and a person second, if I defined myself as a person at all. Because I raised my children to be their own person, I became my own person in the process. They were born unto a mother. They left behind a person they call Mom. No greater a gift can be had.

[ADBLOCKHERE]All this emptiness is room to breathe (okay, initially gasp my way into hysterical hiccups) and it's where the drawing board is going to go — the one I couldn't afford and didn't have room for until now. Beside that will go the dozens of plant stands for all the plants I couldn't have because the children might have sampled them the way they did the flour and cinnamon. Beside that will go the three tall bookcases it will take to hold 57 photo albums worth of my photographic obsession, something I now see as my having lovingly looked after the person I was going to be later who would want to go through them page by page, not box by box.

And now that's where I sit, in the middle of all these pages of photograph books, puffed up with memories and fingerprints and a little drop of what looks to be dried syrup.

It's been a wonderful and harrowing ride, this job of parenting. I'm so glad it's not really over.

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About Diana Hartman

Diana is a USMC (ret.) spouse, mother of three and a Wichita, Kansas native. She is back in the United States after 10 years in Germany. She is a contributing author to Holiday Writes. She hates liver & motivational speakers. She loves science & naps.
  • My parents were divorced. My mother’s obituary talked about how my mother was a single parent. My father noted that he was a single parent when the kids hit 30 and it was a hell of a lot harder.

  • Bliffle

    Is that all you’ve got to complain about in your family?

  • Beautiful!

  • thank you Kris!

  • mistacl

    Thank you–as an adult woman without children (who lives away from her parents), your piece reminds me of my mother. I found it touching and it reminded me of things that I tend to overlook when dealing with her.

  • robin

    I write this from my home office. It’s painted Navy blue and has glow in the dark stars on the ceiling. It used to be child #2’s room.

    She came back last week, heartsick and devestated. She had broken up with her boyfriend–or rather, his family-with which she has been living for about 2 years. She left because she couldnt stand the dysfunction. She left because she found herself being swallowed whole by the alcoholic environment.

    She said her worst fear was that she would find she is a better, healthier person away from them.

    She’s come a long way from the tyke who used to show her panties to the neighborhood boys or get stuck in a tree. Im pretty certain she’s no longer eating cat turds from the litterbox thinking they are tootsie rolls.

    She moved back “home” to her other family the next day, but stronger.

    Yesterday, in this same room, I spoke via phone to child #1 who was waiting in Anchorage, AK for a plane to bring her back to Ohio. We lost the cell signal and it was just as devestating as the day she told me she would not be moving to Canada with me.

    Today I will dress child #3 in his soccer uniform so he can join other 5 year olds on one of the best of life’s training grounds–the soccer field. Much too soon, he will be off doing some grown up thing as well, and I will be alone.

    As much as I look forward to that, I know without a shadow of a doubt that I will have days when I ache for one of them to be in my arms.

    That’s why I go visit my parents. I can’t say I really like them all that much. But I do know that for all the aggrivation Ive caused them (well into my adult life) they still want to hug me.

    Maybe I still want to hug them too.

  • Kathy Smith

    Somehow, we ended up with adult children spread out all over the place. We are happy they went in search of their dreams. We are happy they are doing well – but we miss them.

    We have no grandchildren. Our adult kids are wondering about moving back to their hometown when it comes time to “settle down.” It’s difficult for them to think about raising their own kids without an extended family. It makes me sad to think I might not get a chance to develop a relationship with our future grandchildren.