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It’s Time to Let Go -- Your Kids Will Be Fine!

May 5, 2019

You’re only as happy as your saddest child. We all know this to be true, especially as parents, and moms are super-good at embodying this one. It was probably up until five years ago that I was losing sleep over my four adult kids and their lives. I would toss and turn over whether or not they’d land a dream job, find true love, and provide me with brilliant and happy grand babies. It left me exhausted.

Even so, I spent my fair share of dark hours pacing floors, pulling my hair out and even wailing at the Great Wall of Worry we moms are so good at pilgrimaging to every so often. We carry each child’s life on our shoulders as if we’re a burdened character straight out of “The Odyssey,” fighting all those “what-ifs” as if they were one-eyed giants ready to swallow us whole.

What a waste of time!

Yes, now that I’m reclaiming my 40s, deciding 50-something is the new 40-something, I realize there is no time like right now, baby. Perhaps, I worried because I wanted to shield my kids from making poor decisions that might cost them precious time, but that is the very point I was missing. We cannot live our lives for (or as) our kids if we want them to truly settle into theirs. And though they might not choose the roads we would take, it’s OK, because it isn’t our choice to make.

Now, in their late 20s and early 30s, my four adults, two of whom have become parents themselves, cannot have their mom telling them how she thinks it should be. It is not my job to clear any pain in their path or provide a forecast of joy. It never was my role as mom so why should it be now?

I stopped worrying so much when I joined a couple of groups and signed up for workshops that caught my interest. I picked up yoga classes again. I even took a few ballet classes, something I hadn’t done in years. Then I found myself on a university campus headed for a master’s degree. I went back to teaching. After graduation, I bought a nifty backpack that doubles as a carry-on, and I have traveled to new places. I got a little selfish and decided to focus more on my own life and less on my kids’. And doing so actually set us all free to live our own lives without worrying too much about each other and be the people we wanted to be.

Steve is much better at this. I am learning how to let go, trust in our kids and become a better listener. After all, they are adults now, and they deserve my recognition as such.

When you stand in the yard and wave them goodbye as they’ve just moved out on their own, you do worry at first, but it’s the confidence in them that you show that will cheer them on as they take the first step of independence as an adult. I had to let them go into the world and I had to accept that the older they got, the less I could protect them because they were taking on that responsibility for themselves. Wringing my hands over it was only sending the message that I didn’t believe they were able to do it themselves. Yes, it was scary, because it meant letting them make their own decisions, even if that meant messing up and failing. I mean, really, how many times have I messed up and failed along the way? Plenty. But I always learned something from those experiences, and that was part of growing, the very thing I wanted my kids to do.

So why in the world was I so focused on my kids those first years as an empty-nester? Well, for one thing, it was easier to live vicariously through them. Watching from a safe distance allowed me to soak up their successes by association and at the same time repel any shortcomings as not my own. Plus, it’s easy to get caught up in raising kids as life’s greatest work, the most important thing you’ll ever do, and setting that role free is like standing still in a wave -- it’s bound to knock you over until you get yourself moving again.

So, at first, you take baby steps, and soon you’re running at a clip, and by night you’re only thinking about the things you’d like to do the next day and how to get there.

The difficult part is training your eye on yourself, actually looking into a mirror once in a while and discovering who you are again. You look at the good and the bad, and you do something you haven’t done in a long while -- you take in just who’s looking back at you. You get focused. You consider. You plan. You take a baby step. You remember how well you know your kids and reflect on how you put all your energy, hopes and dreams into raising them. And something wonderful happens: You understand you can do the very same thing with your life beginning right now.

Letting our grown children seek their adult paths is the best thing we can do as parents. It helps us to sleep at night. It was the smartest thing I could do to build a bridge from being an empty-nester to becoming a woman with a full life. My worrying as mom is not over -- that’s impossible. But at least it can reside in a quiet place in my heart, quiet enough so that I can move into my new role as grandmother, and so that my kids trust that I’m always there as an adult in their lives whom they can trust, and who’ll listen to them and love them no matter what life dishes out.

As parents, naturally, we are going to be there for our kids as a sounding board, offering moral, financial and other kinds of support when it is needed, but there comes a point in time, possibly when your child moves out, that we have to realize it’s not our life to worry over anymore.

Moms of kids all grown up: Take your own advice. Be the person you want your child to be. Stop losing sleep over their lives, and start getting some sleep because you’re rediscovering your life again.

You may even get a call once in a while from your adult child with some good news, and then you’ll sigh, wondering why you ever wasted any time worrying at all. Get to it. Life is out there, and your purpose just needs you to redirect your focus from your kids to yourself. The rest will follow, some good, some bad, most of it just beautifully ordinary, and that’s what’s perfect.

Bonnie J. Toomey teaches at Plymouth State University, and writes about writing, learning and life in the 21st century. You can follow Parent Forward on Twitter at https://twitter.com/ bonniejtoomey. Learn more at www.parent forward.blogspot.com or visit bonniejtoomey.com .