When to let go of your Child

Parenting is the hardest task that any adult ever faces. It is time consuming, frustrating and largely thankless. The goal of any parent is to turn their child into a productive and upstanding member of adult society. That is not always successful, much to any parent’s dismay. There comes a point, often many of them, in a child’s life when a parent has to just let go and allow their child to make their own mistakes. As much as it hurts and the parents want to rush in and save their child, in the long run that will do more harm than good.

The first time a parent has to face the hard decision of letting their child go is when they first start to gain some independence. Once a child starts to walk, they will quickly begin their search for independence. It is the natural instinct of parents to want to prevent their child from coming to any harm. When they fall down on the playground any parent will want to run over and make everything better. But that moment is an important part of the learning process for a young child. They need to be able to fall down and scrape their knee and figure out that everything is okay. That can only happen if the parents don’t hover too much. If they come over and make sure that no serious injury has occurred and then let the child handle the situation themselves. This is the first difficult step on the parenting road, but an important one.

One of the most decisive turns that a child takes toward independence from their parents is in adolescence, this is when the parents face a huge burden of knowing how to let go and how much to let go of. As soon as adolescence begins that strive for separation will begin. This is a natural process and part of the process of becoming an adult. But for a parent this represents a type of loss. They are losing the little toddler that used to crawl into their lap when they got sleepy, or a young adult who asked for their help doing homework. Now they have a moody and hormonal teenager who seems to hate the very ground they walk on. All of this is normal and it does pass. Parents need to find a balance between letting their teenager have some independence but also making sure that they don’t stray too far from the correct path. This stage of letting go means the parents need to set age appropriate limits to make sure their child is still safe but also allowing for some liberties to be taken. This is where things like a curfew come in handy. It allows the parents a measure of control since their child is still not mature enough to be entirely in control of their own life but also letting the reins loose a little to allow their child an opportunity to grow as an individual.

The hardest stage of letting go of a child once they reach adulthood. Usually this means the child is going off to college, but it can take place any time after adulthood is reached. This is the scariest moment for any parent. This child that used to be dependent on them for existence is now in charge of their own future. Also, at the same time, the parent realizes that they have lost their title of mommy or daddy. They are now the parents of an adult who has his own life that they are not heavily involved in. That’s scary and a huge loss. Identifying as a parent is a large part of anyone’s life and losing that identity can be difficult. 

In any stage of letting go, the first step is to recognize your emotions for what they are. You are probably scared for your child and hoping that they can make it on their own. There is a loss of the little baby that you brought home from the hospital. You may also be scared about what you will do with your life all day now that they aren’t there anymore. All of these feelings are normal and natural.

During this time you can also look at your child with pride and realize that you have done a good job of parenting them. Look at their move toward an independent life as a sign of your success as a parent. The fact that they are prepared to leave the nest and create their own is a signal that you have succeeded! That is something that you can hold on to in those moments where you feel the loss of your baby and realize that you created a successful adult, and that was your job all along.

Recognize that you are no longer responsible for their choices. Your child may end up going down the wrong path and making bad decisions. That is not a signal that you were a failure as a parent. It just means that they have chosen to make the wrong choices in their own life. Don’t second guess your parenting. You can’t go back in time to change it now. Every parent does the best they can and just have to hope that is good enough. You are not to blame for their choices, they are an adult and have to take that responsibility themselves.

Lastly, just because your child is an adult now doesn’t mean that they don’t need you. They do and always will. Stay in touch and check up once a week or so to make sure they are doing well. Don’t pester them with daily phone calls, they do have a life after all, but keep in touch every now and then. Maybe keep an open invitation for them to come home for Sunday dinner and use that as a time to catch up. Be available if they need someone to talk to but recognize that your role as a parent is more of an advisor now, instead of being an active participant. Let your child know that you recognize their independence but that you are also there for them if they need you. This will foster the best relationship possible through their entire adult life.