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How to Let Go and Let Your Child Grow Up

Updated on September 13, 2017
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Janis counseled many populations during her career including children and families in need of parenting skill assessment and interventions.

Letting Go of Parental Attachment is Easier Said Than Done

The mother-daughter bond of love and friendship is hard to break when it's time to let her grow up and become a young adult.
The mother-daughter bond of love and friendship is hard to break when it's time to let her grow up and become a young adult. | Source

Fear of Letting My Child Grow Up

What is your greatest fear of letting go of your child?

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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 grieving 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 your child go is like letting him walk down a dark tunnel without you, but it's inevitable.
Letting your child go is like letting him walk down a dark tunnel without you, but it's inevitable. | Source

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
  • Difficulty weaning 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

Defining Parental Attachment

Letting Go Creates Guilt and Internal Conflict for Parents

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

Letting go of your child allows her to independently discover the world.
Letting go of your child allows her to independently discover the world. | Source

© 2013 Janis Leslie Evans

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    • janshares profile image
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      Janis Leslie Evans 5 weeks ago from Washington, DC

      Chris, thanks so much for sharing your story about your daughter. I cannot imagine how difficult and painful it must be for you as she appears to have individuated abruptly, i.e., exert her independence. She may also be making it difficult because it's painful for her, too. You are on the right track with letting go. I wish you the best, take it a day at a time.

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      Chris 5 weeks ago

      I'm guilty of holding on too long. My daughter and I have been together for 26 years, me a single mother, and her attending 7 1/2 years of college while living st home.

      She moved 3 hours away 2 years ago, but very dependent on me on how to set up a new house and many other adulting things such as what dish to bring to a potluck, what should she wear on a date, etc. So while I definitely grieved hard because of the physical distance between us, we talked several times a day during which I laid out all kinds of advice on every issue. I'm not gonna lie, I was worried she could not survive without me. I still had her let me know when she was home at night.

      Now suddenly, all the rules have changed. She has told me she doesn't want any more advice unless she specifically asks. She suddenly acts as though I've not got things so together - quite a lot of insults.

      I am glad to know she is ready to take on all aspects of running her house and making decisions but it is painful how suddenly the change occurred and unsure why she is being so harsh. I know now, I held on too long but I can't help but feel as though I've been fired. It's a very lonely feeling. I'm going to try and build a new life but it's very hard.

    • janshares profile image
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      Janis Leslie Evans 6 weeks ago from Washington, DC

      Sounds like you're really thinking ahead and have a good plan, Andrea. Glad you found the article helpful. I wish you well.

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      Andrea 6 weeks ago

      I really appreciate this article as my kids are starting to grow up and I am looking to try and let go. It is really so hard after bonding with them to see them transform and to think of all the not so nice people out there. I can only pray that I have done an adequate job. I am starting to prepare psychologically for it and hope I can move on gracefully to the next stage in their development.

    • janshares profile image
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      Janis Leslie Evans 6 weeks ago from Washington, DC

      Thank you for your comments. I appreciate your point of view.

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      say so 6 weeks ago

      what a horrible article.

      it brings out all those stupid enmeshed parenting.

      For example why would a parent cry because their child is going to college.... sick parenting that is why.

      when a child is going to college they need even more attention than when they were breastfeeding. this is because they are walking into the world of religious cultists and drug dealers. its the time the parent should even be more involved if you do not want your daughter prostituting herself to buy nice clothes from older monied men who haunt these places. instead of crying a healthy parent is involved healthily in their child's growth.

      this article makes me so sick.

      Many adults are not equipped to parent a rat and they call themselves parents.

      sick pare

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      Medeo 4 months ago

      This was bad don't do it

    • janshares profile image
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      Janis Leslie Evans 8 months ago from Washington, DC

      You're very welcome, Irma. Sounds like you're already doing a great job. In this day and age, your fear is appropriate. But with the limits you have set, half the battle of letting go has been won. Thank you so much for reading this article, glad to know you found it helpful.

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      Irma 8 months ago

      I have a 13 yr old only child, its been realy hard for me to start letting him go out with his friends even just to go to the mall to watch a movie, he claims I'm too overprotected and that he needs to grow up, I'm just scared of all the dangers out there. So I do let him go but of course there are limits because of his age and have communication. I told him if he acts responsabily he can have more freedom and that he needs to earn my trust to let go more. Thank you for the article very helpful.

    • janshares profile image
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      Janis Leslie Evans 9 months ago from Washington, DC

      You are so very welcome, Carolyn. Holidays are the most difficult time when a loved one is away, especially a child for the first time. The reality hits hard when traditions are broken, making the break all the more painful. I hope the article helped you through it, just a little. Both of you passed a great milestone. The good thing is that you do recognize your reward in that he is growing up. I wish you peace and blessings for your family in the new year.

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      Carolyn 9 months ago

      My 18 yr old and 1st to leave nest went off to university in Sept and then told us he was going travelling for Christmas/New year. It broke my heart but knew it was what he wanted and needed to do. Letting go is by far the hardest and most challenging aspect of parenting. He had such a great time and it was truly amazing to see him blossom so that is my reward. Just hope he's home with us next Christmas lol, thank you for your article, very close to my heart.

    • janshares profile image
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      Janis Leslie Evans 20 months ago from Washington, DC

      Oh, Michelle. What you're feeling is so real, let the tears flow. You have to get through, a day at a time, and trust that the natural process of letting go has to happen. Make sure to find other nurturing activities to fill your time. You'll be fine, hang in there. Thanks for stopping by and reading this article. I hope it helps. I appreciate your visit and comment.

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      Michelle 20 months ago

      I feel like my world is about to end with a son turning 18 in a little more than a week and graduates soon after. I will repeat this process next year with my daughter. All I can do is cry.

    • janshares profile image
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      Janis Leslie Evans 2 years ago from Washington, DC

      You're right, aesta1, it's an adjustment. Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 2 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Letting go is always difficult and to decide when with kids is a challenge. Maybe, the relationship changes but there is never a letting go. Well done!

    • janshares profile image
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      Janis Leslie Evans 2 years ago from Washington, DC

      Very touching comment, olog. Thanks for reading, glad to know it validated your experience.

    • ologsinquito profile image

      ologsinquito 2 years ago from USA

      This is an excellent article that I can certainly relate to. It was very hard letting go and watching one of my children go off to college. However, on the other hand, he was ready to go and I could he was ready. I'll never forget the day he actually got in the car and left for school.

    • janshares profile image
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      Janis Leslie Evans 3 years ago from Washington, DC

      I'm so glad to hear that, grand old lady. It is my pleasure to help. It really makes me feel good that I've made a difference for someone with this article. Thank you also for enlightening me about the struggle in Filipino culture regarding this topic. I appreciate your visit and generous comments.

    • grand old lady profile image

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 3 years ago from Philippines

      The last two points you made are particularly useful. In the Philippines, it's not uncommon for grown children to still live at home, sometimes even after they have married. Mostly, it's because of economics. A basic salary won't buy you an apartment and furnishings or even a car on installment. So the challenge is having a child who is 23 in your house, and giving her the space she needs to let go. I realize I never had a mourning period and my husband and I have to go through that. Also, rebuilding a different relationship is most helpful advice. Thank you for your wisdom. It's so hard to research a topic like this on google and finally, after a few years, this article comes up. It's so helpful.

    • janshares profile image
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      Janis Leslie Evans 3 years ago from Washington, DC

      Glad you enjoyed the poem, Treasuresofheaven. Thank you for stopping by and reading this one which so many parents can relate to at this time of year. I appreciate the votes, too.

    • Treasuresofheaven profile image

      Sima Ballinger 3 years ago from Michigan

      This was a good read and good information. Our kids do know more than we give them credit. My oldest son, who commutes to college, needs to be more independent than we have allowed him. He is going to make a big change before the summer is over - and I applaud him. I enjoyed the poem, it was very inspiring. Up and Useful!!!

    • janshares profile image
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      Janis Leslie Evans 3 years ago from Washington, DC

      Well said, Raine. I appreciate your visit and comments.

    • Raine Law Yuen profile image

      Raine Law Yuen 3 years ago from Cape Town

      interesting hub. I think it gets easier with the second child. I often hear my children commenting about what a child said to the kids in their class about their own parents when they feel overprotected. also that parents should keep in mind that when children feel smothered they may start to resent you. I guess the trick is to keep a balance. To trust that your child knows best what is right for themselves. Just think back to when you were a child.

    • janshares profile image
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      Janis Leslie Evans 3 years ago from Washington, DC

      I appreciate your feedback, Anita Saran. Culture definitely plays a role in the course of a child developing into an adult. Thank you for stopping by and reading. I wish you the best with your son.

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      Anita Saran 3 years ago from Bangalore, India

      Nice hub janshares. My son is 21 and going to college and it's time for him to move out on his own. Relatives think that's callous but I think it's essential for his development as an independent adult. In India, we tend to latch on to our children longer.

    • janshares profile image
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      Janis Leslie Evans 3 years ago from Washington, DC

      Thank you very much! :-)

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      Geri Mileff 3 years ago from Czech Republic

      Very useful article. Great job! :)

    • janshares profile image
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      Janis Leslie Evans 3 years ago from Washington, DC

      You're welcome, swilliams. Glad you related to it. I know it's easier said than done. Thank you for taking the time to read it.

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      Emunah La Paz 3 years ago from Arizona

      This is a tough one Jan. I faced letting my daughter go. She married young I like my new son-in-law but it was a hard adjustment. Thanks for the useful article! Very Well Done!

    • janshares profile image
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      Janis Leslie Evans 3 years ago from Washington, DC

      Thank you, AMF, for reading and sharing your experience with coming into your own with your parents. I do hope it helps someone else take a confident stand and maintain a good relationship with their parents.

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      Aldene Fredenburg 3 years ago from Southwestern New Hampshire

      Janis, I had a situation with my parents that took me years to to figure out. They would invite me over for supper and then tag-team me, leveling all kinds of criticism at me; I got to the point where I stayed away for several months. Then I decided, this is ridiculous; I can't stay away from them for the rest of my life; I need to figure this out. The next time I saw them they started in again, and I said, mildly, "I disagree; I think I'm doing a really good job handling things under some difficult circumstances." They stared at me like I had two heads. After that, whenever they said something critical or hurtful, I would say calmly, "I disagree," and then say something positive about myself. They very quickly got the message that I wasn't going to accept their criticism, and it stopped. I don't know if this will work for you, but it might be worth a shot.

    • janshares profile image
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      Janis Leslie Evans 3 years ago from Washington, DC

      Very powerful what you've expressed here, Kristine. I appreciate you sharing about what this hub has triggered for you. It is so important for children to become free and independent and not full of resentment. My heart goes out to you. I hope you make time for yourself. Thank you for reading this hub.

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      Donna Kristine 3 years ago from Atlanta, GA

      Janis, this is a wonderful Hub. I am over 40 and currently care for my Mom. I find it difficult at times because she lets things come out of her mouth to me like she is talking to a 12 year-old, and I snap back. Unfortunately my brother has passed away, and my sister stays clear, so I'm stuck. My Mom never retired from anywhere, she just went on vacation and never went back to work, and all she has is less than 1,000 dollars a month social security - she made no preparation for her future. She is unable to live on her own. I encourage all parents to give much space to their children so later on they will not resent them.

    • Rebecca Furtado profile image

      Rebecca Furtado 4 years ago from Anderson, Indiana

      Very nice hub. I can relate to those feelings of the empty nest. I just sent my youngest off to live on campus. I am resisting the urge to call more than once a week.

    • janshares profile image
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      Janis Leslie Evans 4 years ago from Washington, DC

      Thank you for those comments. I really appreciate your taking time to stop by and read it.

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      Paula 4 years ago from The Midwest, USA

      This is an important topic to discuss. People often don't plan for it I think. I recall hearing it spoken of when my son was in preschool, for the first time. I mean talking about letting kids go, raising them up knowing there will be times to let go. I think that helped me some. It is hard now, as mine are getting so big, and this world is a pretty scary place. Thanks for sharing.

    • janshares profile image
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      Janis Leslie Evans 4 years ago from Washington, DC

      Thank you for sharing those wonderful comments about your experience. It sounds like you've done an excellent job with your children. I appreciate your stopping by and reading this hub.

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      LongTimeMother 4 years ago from Australia

      I have had such an exciting, challenging and rewarding adult life that I am excited for my children to have the same opportunities. Even at an early age I started talking about "when you're an adult ...".

      My adult children make me very proud, and I am sure my youngest will do the same when she leaves home. What makes me most proud is the way they face the world with confidence and a determination to make the most of every day. :)

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      Janis Leslie Evans 4 years ago from Washington, DC

      Thank you, Rosetta, for your wisdom-filled comment. I appreciate your visit.

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      Rosetta 4 years ago

      As a great grandmother with 3 generations under me, I learned early to tell my children, that things happen everyday, some difficult and some easy. Learn to change those that you can and live with those you can't. It is called LIFE. I learned and they learned, I am still learning as they are also and LIFE is great. Thank you so much for sharing this and I especially love the poem.

    • janshares profile image
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      Janis Leslie Evans 4 years ago from Washington, DC

      Of course, you are absolutely right, DDE. You never truly let go. I hope this article will help parents to live better with the new relationship with their children and not grieve for too long.

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      Devika Primić 4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Letting go for me was not hard but for my husband yes, off-course he is still my lovely baby and twenty it may sound ridiculous deep dow parents still look at their children as babies even when grown up it is always some little concern that makes you want to feel at ease

    • janshares profile image
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      Janis Leslie Evans 4 years ago from Washington, DC

      You're welcome, toptengamer. I appreciate your visit and taking time to read it. Glad it resonated with you.

    • toptengamer profile image

      Brandon Hart 4 years ago from The Game

      It's hard sometimes isn't it as in some ways it's so easy to be controlling when that's not always the best for them. As a parent of 4 children I appreciate your insight!

    • janshares profile image
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      Janis Leslie Evans 4 years ago from Washington, DC

      Thanks for liking the poem, tobusiness. That means a lot coming from you. :-)

    • janshares profile image
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      Janis Leslie Evans 4 years ago from Washington, DC

      Ha ha, thanks for that, Mhatter. Glad you stopped by.

    • janshares profile image
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      Janis Leslie Evans 4 years ago from Washington, DC

      Thank you very much, jabelufiroz, and for taking the time to read it.

    • janshares profile image
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      Janis Leslie Evans 4 years ago from Washington, DC

      You've summed it up perfectly, Faith Reaper. Thanks for your visit and votes, grateful for the sharing.

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      Jo Alexis-Hagues 4 years ago from Bedfordshire, U.K

      A wonderful hub, letting go will always be a tough thing to do, but let go we must. I loved the poem, especially the last couplet.

      Awesome

    • Mhatter99 profile image

      Martin Kloess 4 years ago from San Francisco

      Thank you for this. For me it was easy, as mine were so screwed up. But my mom needed money once in a while.

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 4 years ago from southern USA

      Oops, that should be cord! Cut the cord.

      Sorry for the faux pas there!

      God bless, Faith Reaper

    • jabelufiroz profile image

      Firoz 4 years ago from India

      Informative hub on Parental Attachment. Voted up.

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 4 years ago from southern USA

      Yes, it is very hard, but we must cut that chord at some point, to allow them to grow and find their own way in this world and let them know that we will be there no matter what, if they ever need us. No subject is off-limits and our love is truly endless indeed!

      Voted up +++ and sharing

      God bless, Faith Reaper

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      Janis Leslie Evans 4 years ago from Washington, DC

      Lol, harmony155! So true with many. Thank you for your visit.

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      Janis Leslie Evans 4 years ago from Washington, DC

      AMFredenburg, excellent points. I appreciate those comments. Thank you so much for reading, voting, and especially sharing!

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      harmony155 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      My husband is 34 years old and his parents still feel like they "own" him!

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      Aldene Fredenburg 4 years ago from Southwestern New Hampshire

      Jan, this is such important information; I've seen both my sisters as they accepted their children's adulthood and have ended up being good friends of their adult children, with respect on both sides. Parents who won't let go are missing out on an important stage of their own development as human beings and the possibility of a deep and abiding relationship with their grown children. Voting up and sharing.

    • janshares profile image
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      Janis Leslie Evans 4 years ago from Washington, DC

      You speak truth from experience, you're absolutely right. Thank you for reading this one "hot off the presses."

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      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Jan, my son is twenty-eight and I'm not sure we, as parents, ever totally let go. He is still my little boy and I constantly struggle with letting him make his own decisions and mistakes. :) Great hub with serious food for thought.