Learning To Let Go

A desk lamp. That’s the only thing my child wanted for his dorm room. Literally the only thing.

“How about sheets?” I offered. He thought about it, “Yeah, that’s probably a good idea too.” Gulp, “probably” a good idea not to sleep on a naked mattress like some sort of ingrate? How is this kid going to survive without me?

Sending your first child off to college is a mind-bending experience. So many questions. None of them with immediate answers.

What is life going to be like without him? How am I old enough to be the mother of a college-aged kid? Will he remember he actually has assignments? Will he care enough to hand them in? Will he ever change his pants?

I’ve always been a little annoyed with the wistful “it goes so fast” thing. Everyone says it because it’s true. But LIFE in general goes by so fast, not just rising a kid from infancy to pre-adulthood. I promise I was 19 only yesterday. Now my kid is nearly 19. I’m not sure how that happened.

So here I am, just bewildered.

Parenting is feeling around in the dark. Each stage is a whole new world that you’ve never seen before. You’re a complete stranger, and you don’t speak the language. It’s petrifying, really. Some stages are easier than others, but each one is this giant chance for failure.

The “what ifs” are many, and each is more terrifying than the last.

What if you didn’t prepare your kid for every possible obstacle? What if you didn’t give he or she every chance that you should have? What if you didn’t challenge them enough, socialize them enough? What if they could have been some incredible thing – an astronaut, an electrical engineer, an artist, a classical music prodigy – that you missed the window for?

But the funny thing is, while you are absolutely paralyzed by the fear of parental failure at each stage, you also see success – the success of watching this tiny human turn into a whole new adult person. Someone that you actually like.

With each new step, you see what was once this perfect being with chubby legs that you needed to carry around take on more responsibility, be able to do more things, and eventually become a person that you are looking forward to sitting down and having a drink with.

(When they get old enough to legally do so, of course).

There are so many ways to screw up parenting, but there are even more ways to get it right. And no one can tell you, while you’re in the thick of it, if you’re erring more toward one side or the other, all those endless “how to” parenting books be damned.

The problem is, you don’t know, and it’s this whole other person that you are potentially messing up. But what my son would say is, “Mom, I got it. It’s my life, and I can take care of it.”

As much as we think it’s us making them succeed or not, it’s actually them that can take the potential we give them and turn it into success. As cliche as it sounds, it really is true: We don’t have the power to make them successful until we let go.

So here I am, trying to let go. Trying to think about the amazing trajectory he’s on. Trying not to think about how much I’m going to miss his dry wit, the kind way he says “I got you Mom” when I ask him to do something. The way you feel oddly proud when he says, “I respect that” in response to some minor statement.

Is he packing the right clothes? Does he need MORE clothes? Sunblock, he should pack sunblock. I know he won’t remember sunblock.

“I’m fine Mom, really,” he says.

In just a few days, I have to take a deep breath and believe him. I have to get used to not having him around. I have to mentally age myself significantly, because, you know, you are OLD if you have a kid in college. And I’m losing my extra driver. Man, did that come in handy.

But the biggest thing, the scariest thing, the most exciting thing, is that in just a few days I have to go through the hardest part of parenting – letting go.

I don’t want to let my baby go.

But I just love the adult he is becoming, and if I don’t take that step and let go, then I’ll never get the chance to get to know the person he could be. I’m so excited to watch him take the potential that all the people that love him worked so hard to create and make it into something magic.

Sink or swim, college, here we come. I just hope he sometimes changes his pants, and I really hope he uses that desk lamp.




  1. Silvia Lilly

    Sweet post, Ginnie. Yes, the days are long, but the years are short when it comes to parenting. That tension between supporting my kids and allowing them to fail has been one of my biggest struggles. PS. I’ll be in Buffalo Labor Day weekend if you need me to deliver sunblock.

  2. Pat Fahy

    This is terrific & hits home in so many ways! I am about to take the 2nd child back for 3rd time – and it still puts me on a rollercoaster down memory lane.


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