The Bold and Beastly Decision to Let Go of Your 20 Something Child

“She also understood there was a hole in her heart where her son should be, that she was a wicked, selfish woman for wishing him back.” Shannon Celebi, Driving Off Bridges

In one month’s time I have had to make the decision to release my two 20 something sons, over and over again. My firstborn boy was married on May 13th, and then fourteen days later he’s off to military training, crawling in the mud under barbed wire, and sleeping under humid summer lightning storms. One week later I am saying, “Farewell and have a great summer” to my next born son as he spends three months on the opposite coast. I have never been away from any of my children for this long.

What is a mother to do? A mom who adores mothering her sons.

She rejoices!

Is this the natural response? Hell no! I honestly don’t know where the strength, or moreover, the joy, came when I dropped my second son off at the airport the other morning.

My boys mean the world to me. My firstborn, passionate, intense, keen on continually bringing me back to what’s most important (the Gospel), whereas my second born is sensitive, intuitive, observant, and whose soul runs so deep I’m not sure where it ends. In many ways, these boys have been my world for twenty-one years.

Three days ago, I honestly thought by the time I pulled the car up to the curb reading “departures” I’d be a weeping, incoherent mess. Instead, I surprised myself with boldness, and beastly courage. At the check-in counter I looked my tender boy in the eye and said, “I’ll miss you so much, Davis, but I want you to go have the best summer of your life! I know you will.”

Before we dive into this joyous attitude of mine, let me assure you that I have not always been successful at “letting go.” In fact, I have failed miserably. I have used sarcasm, sullen facial expressions, withdrawal, and just flat out tears to let my boys know how much I miss them.

So, I will be the first to confess that the subject I tackle in this post takes sheer bravery. Letting go is beastly and one must act in boldness to accomplish the task. As hard as the job is, the act of releasing a child from a strong parental grip is absolutely right for the child. To do otherwise is selfish. Yes, as the author Shannon Celebi’s quote suggests, it’s wicked to hold too tightly (to our sons, especially).

Culture tells us to be sad. Culture tells us to cry when a child goes away, and then to rejoice when they come home. We have been told that preferring them within the fold of our warm home is real love, and to wish them a successful early adulthood on their own is nothing short of neglect. We should wave our “Mom” banner high and hold on as tight as we can!

But what about our sons?

Do you remember when you left home for the first time? The excitement? The sense of adventure trapped inside your bones finally catching some air?

I was the same age as my oldest when I told my parents I was moving to another coast. I’d never seen that kind of reaction from my dad (sadness, horror, and tears). It shocked me and shook me, but I knew I had to go. He did too, but that didn’t make it easier on him. I didn’t understand the hole I’d opened in both my mom and dad’s parental heart when I chose to move away, but I’m understanding now.

I can say with utter gratitude that the greatest gift both my parents have ever given me is the gift of release. My father’s reaction that dreadful day shook me, but it didn’t last. Not because I changed my mind, but because he set his mind on something outside his own desire. Somewhere deep down, with a strength I am now learning to appreciate, my dad made a decision to let his daughter fly.

It’s a choice my mom and dad have been making every day for the past thirty years. They release me over and over again. They don’t make me feel guilty. They don’t badger, sulk, or sarcastically insinuate that too much time has gone by since my last phone call. They have given me the Chance to Choose my life.

I want to do the same for my three children. The time is now for my boys. Not yet for my daughter.

This is a parenting problem I see over and over again.

We give freedom and “wings” way before it’s time. We let grade school kids run through back yards unattended on long summer days. We let preteens go places they should never go. We send hormonal boys and girls off to be alone together on dates.

We are failing to parent when it matters and over-parenting when it’s time to let go.

Picture a funnel.

Many parents have the funnel turned up the way we’re used to seeing it-wide at the top. This parenting style gives children endless choices, unlimited opportunity, but, unfortunately, it’s backwards. We have given them too much, too early. We have forgotten that boundaries are good. Fences keep the wayward sheep inside and safe when they don’t know what they’re doing. We forget that the funnel at the other end narrows into limitation. Life does that for us by way of natural consequences from too much freedom and foolishness early on.

What if, as parents, we chose to be responsible when it was required, when children are young?

What if we turned the funnel upside down and limited their choices as we taught them about responsibility?

If you looked at life from the visual of an upside down funnel, developing discipline and wisdom first, this eventually leads to wide abundance and possibility later. In this scenario, a 20 something adult has learned how to wisely make decisions about college, finances, marriage, home ownership, career moves, and how to become effective parents themselves, because they’ve been properly trained when they were supposed to be within the boundaries of the parental fence.

Think about it…is this what we’re seeing in our current culture? I’m sad to admit that I’ve witnessed, more often than not, parents choosing a hands off approach when children are young, but then an attitude of controlling overkill when the 20 something should really be on his own.

Galatians 5:1 says, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”

Jesus calls us to be free! We are not meant to be enslaved or burdened, but I have seen “many a mom” burden their child with expectations. My dear fellow moms… oh, how I know the heartbreak of releasing our children into this unknown world, but may I encourage you toward the bold and beastly decision to let go of your 20 something child.

Them ’em fly. Be joyous in their growth. Our goal in raising them was that they would find the life they were always meant to live. Let them. If they fall, it is the Lord who picks them up. May we not be in the way when His help comes.