by Ronald J. Greer
Some parents flinch at the phrase “letting go,” since it implies less of a relationship. But it isn’t. Although there is much less face-to-face time together, this is not the end of a relationship but the beginning of a new one. It is the ending of the previous chapter, of who they were, so that we might begin the next chapter and connect with who they are.
Two friends of mine learned I was writing this book on being parents of young adults. They are both mothers of fine young adults, and both have excellent relationships with them. In separate conversations I received two rather different responses from them on the book’s topic. One said, “Well, that’s going to be a short book. Just tell them to, ‘Let ’em go.'” The other said something quite different, “You never really let them go, of course.– Both are wise women and wonderful mothers. And both are right.
We move from one caring relationship to a different caring relationship—with new boundaries, with different ways of connecting, but with just as much love. With a healthy, mutual respect, parents and their adult daughters and sons can transition into being the best of friends.
In all of this “letting go,” we do not cease to be our adult children’s parents. They will always be in our awareness and in our hearts. We will always be thinking of their welfare and ready to be supportive in any way we can. We do, indeed, become friends as fellow adults. Yet it is a unique friendship. They know we’ve got their back, as the clichŽ goes these days. We are there for them and always will be. That support will never change, no matter how much they mature or how old we become or how completely they may have out-grown us. But regardless of how much they grow, mature or achieve, they know we are in the wings. We are there for them. Supportively, lovingly. We remain their mothers and their fathers.
Columnist Ellen Goodman put it this way, “What I did next—what we did next—was to reinvent our mother-daughter relationship again and again. We’d already gone from mother and toddler to mother and teenager—a transition that required the flexibility of a Bikram yoga instructor. Gradually, though, we were transformed from mother and college student to mother and mother, woman and woman. I changed from guide to confidante, from safety net to reality check.”3
I always think of a mobile as the perfect metaphor for a family– a mobile with its delicate silver pieces hanging in balance from the thinnest lines of filament. Any significant change in the family—a birth or death, a marriage or divorce—and a piece is added or suddenly taken away. Our mobile sways from the sudden shift. It sways as we move from relating with them as children to connecting as young adults. It sways as our relationship is in transition, is being redefined. It is a time of uncertainty and some anxiety—for we don’t know what this important relationship will look like when our mobile has achieved its new balance.
We live in the present. We look back to savor the memories, learn from the past, or work through any unfinished emotional business—but we live in the present moment. We believe that relationships with those we love endure. They endure change. They endure the swinging of our familial mobile. We come out on the far side of these changes as somewhat new families with redefined relationships. We haven’t tried to hang on to what used to be. We embrace what is. We are transformed. And it is good.