How to Let Go and Let Your Child Grow Up
Letting Go of Parental Attachment is Easier Said Than Done
Letting Your Child Grow Up
As children prepare to advance in school or enter college for the first time, parents are confronted with the reality of the child growing up. The parent is suddenly faced with letting go of a parental attachment held from birth.
This notion of "letting go" can create levels of anxiety most parents could not have prepared for, with an intensity they did not expect. Many report experiencing feelings of mourning a loss.
It is much easier said than done when the time comes to break the parent-child connection which begins the establishment of a child's autonomy and independence.
Whether it's the end of breastfeeding, the first day of kindergarten, going away to college, or walking the bride down the aisle to give her away, it can be a most difficult tug-of-war for a parent.
Children Need to Grow Up and Venture Out on Their Own
Letting Go in Stages of Your Child's Development
These events in your child's development mark the times when you let go and allow your child to take another step toward becoming a free-standing human being.
The teenage years are probably the most difficult, as you have less and less control over your child's developing autonomy and need to make his own decisions.
Your child begins in earnest to move away from his dependency on you. The poem below, "For My Child," speaks to this struggle and the reconciliation as seen from the parent's point of view.
"For My Child"
I make my plans for you from birth
Carefully carving out your worth
So wrapped up in who you'll be
I neglect your individuality
I want to protect you all your life
Keep you safe from danger and strife
Temptation and pressure attack you all day
How as a parent can I keep it away?
I pray that you'll receive God's grace
And when you need to, slow your pace
Will my guidance be enough?
To guard and keep you from all that stuff?
My goal in life is to see you succeed
What's the best way to plant that seed?
I'll give you the room to make a mistake
I'll trust you with each step you take
I'll tell you "I LOVE YOU" when you make a mess
I'll tell you "NO" when I want to say, "YES."
I'll give you the space to set your tone
Adjust my expectations as you create your own.
[JLE 2006 Poetry Verse Form: Heroic Couplet]
Overparenting: Recognizing Your Dependency Needs
Becoming aware of what's behind your need to parent your child indefinitely is a good place to begin your letting go process. Sorting out those mixed feelings preventing you from letting go is the first step toward understanding and conquering one of the most painful parts of parenting. It requires looking within.
The emotional struggle could be due to your own dependency needs supplied to you by your child. In my work with parents, some have spoken about the strength of the "love bond" between parent and child. This love bond supplies the parent's need for love, affection, and companionship.
They admit how this bond affects their ability to separate from the child, causing emotional conflicts and disruptions in their personal and professional lives. Examples of these disruptions experienced by parents include:
- Delays in using a sitter to care for the child
- A frequent need to "reconnect" or check on the child's welfare at daycare or college
- Being unable to socialize or vacation for long or extended periods of time
- Relationship conflicts stemming from decreased intimacy and quality time between parents
- Delayed weaning of child from your bed to his own bed
- Conflicts about obligations to career choices/commitments to shift work, especially where basic childcare or breastfeeding is interrrupted
Fear of Letting My Child Grow Up
What is your greatest fear of letting go of your child?
Defining Parental Attachment
Letting Go Creates Parental Guilt and Internal Conflict
The conflicts and disruptions noted above are experienced by many parents, especially mothers. In these instances, primarily occurring during the child's early development, feelings of guilt, conflicts between loyalties, and the internal struggles to make sacrifices can overwhelm a parent.
The truth is, for a parent, there is no other love that compares to the love a mother or father has for a child and the responsibility that comes with caring for and protecting that child.
Thus, a parent is operating out of pure love, reciprocated by the child, which creates the intense, unexpected love bond that is hard to break.
It's no wonder parents have a tough time letting go and allowing the child to become independent. No event is more significant for a parent to experience that emotional flood of protective love than when a teenager enters college.
The increased reports in the media of violence in public school classrooms, on college campuses, and in places of recreation add to the gut-wrenching fears parents have when faced with having to let go of their children.
Parents Talk About Letting Go of College Bound Children
Tips to Help You Let Go of Your Child
There is no exact way to tackle and move through stages of your child's development. Every child requires different parenting as every parent will do his best based on knowledge, experiences, and available parenting tools.
The following are basic tips to assist parents as they move through the difficult transition of letting go, when that time comes. Starting early will help create a good foundation upon which you can build successes at each critical stage of your child's development.
- Set boundaries for yourself; practice giving your child space to grow
- Give your child a chance to master tasks alone and learn from mistakes
- Trust that the values you've instilled will inform their decisions
- Acknowledge that you've done your best as a parent and that the hands-on phase of parenting does come to an end
- Treat the letting go process as a transitional loss and grieve accordingly; see a family therapist if necessary
- As your child matures, rebuild a new relationship that is less about dependency and more about mutual respect, admiration, and a celebration of a budding, capable young adult
Children Learn to Discover the World on Their Own
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Questions & Answers
How do I help my mom let go of me? She struggled with my leaving in the past when I left for college but now I’m 30 and live in the same city as she does and will be moving soon. She is upset, fearful and hurtful in her words because of her fear.
It's hard to see your mom hurting but you eventually have to leave her to move forward with your life. Remind her of how she was able to get through the first time when you left for college. Encourage her to talk it through with a grief counselor to help with the feelings of hurt and loss. As much as you want to ease her pain, she will have to face this transition and do most of the work herself. It would certainly help to let her know how much you appreciate her and that your relationship will continue long-distance with new boundaries.Helpful 39
My mom can’t come to terms with the fact that I am turning 18 in September and still thinks I need a curfew and strict rules. Although I am living under “their roof”, I have a job and am going to cosmetology school in November. I also have a boyfriend, and the 11 pm curfew is getting frustrating. Is she overreacting?
Not necessarily. Parents come across as overprotective when they are either afraid or trying to maintain discipline. I hear that the tug-of-war between following the rules and establishing autonomy can be extremely frustrating. Show your mom you can be trusted with those rules. It will show her that you can be mature and responsible. This may help her to let go enough to ease those rules gradually and give you the independence you deserve as you grow into an adult. I hope this helps. Thank you for taking the time to read this article. Good luck with your endeavors.Helpful 26
My daughter left a note and moved out. How do I cope? She’s eighteen, and a senior in high school?
This is a very difficult time for you and probably quite painful. The first thing you want to establish is that she's safe. Hopefully, you still have contact with her or can check on her through her friends. Unfortunately, you may have to ride this time out and wait, especially because she is of age. For her to leave like this indicates there may have been some tension about her need for autonomy. If there is contact, use this time to hear her out, listen to her grievances, and let her know you are still there for her no matter where she is. As for you, use the space to adjust to what it most certainly feels like to have to let go. Also, use this time for self-care that you otherwise may have been neglecting because parenting is a 24/7 job. Take good care of yourself and thanks for reading.Helpful 25
My daughter has twice run off with a guy. Once when she was 17 and again recently at 19. She’s told lies about me and my husband and forever quits jobs. She’s now couch surfing. My mom thinks it’s my job to have her come. I don’t know the right thing to do?
Sounds like there may be some built of resentment affecting the family dynamics because no one has control over your daughter. Until she takes control of herself, it will be difficult for her and you to move forward. Maybe counseling would help. You are doing the best you can under the circumstances, there is no right or wrong, only letting go and making her accountable for her own behavior. Setting limits about how much time she spends "surfing the couch" may help.Helpful 21
My oldest is sixteen and has an infant. She has left home twice, and repeatedly says I need to let her go. Is it time? I feel like there are still things I need to show her, do for her, protect her from...I don't know how she can make it out there on her own, at this age, with a child.
I understand your concerns because she's still so young with adult responsibilities. If she has other supportive family and friends she can count on; maybe she'll be okay. She also has the option to plug into community resources to help her as well. But the bottom line for you is that as her mom and legal guardian, you want to uphold your responsibility to her, and she's pushing back. It's a tough call. Maybe you can ask what she needs from you and give her a certain amount of independence to make some decisions.Helpful 17
© 2013 Janis Leslie Evans