The Start of Letting My Son Go

my son's game faceI had to let go. That firey feeling in my throat and heart like a bomb was about to explode in my chest told me I had to let go. Even though I hate letting go. Because I am really good at putting every piece of myself into mothering my children but I am terrible at the letting go part.

I look at the pile of clothes on my floor and I can’t will myself to put them away. Those clothes were supposed to be moved into a suitcase—a suitcase that I would need for my much anticipated trip with my son to visit a college in California. But there was no need to move the clothes into the suitcase. And no need to put the clothes away right now and dig the knife into my heart any further.

I am not going on the trip to CA with my son. He begged to have his dad take him instead. “Mom, I have a baseball tryout, I really need dad there. You don’t lose any money because you used miles for your ticket. Dad wasn’t going to be able to go because of work but now he can go. I hope you can understand that it’s not personal. This is not about you.”

Understand that it is not personal. It’s not about me. Except that it is. It is because I was looking forward to spending this time with him. Because he is slipping away. Because it is his last year at home. Because as hard as I try not to, I am doing the countdown, noticing the “lasts,” while trying to hang onto the now­—the time he is still living in the house. Because I thought I would be better at all of this with him, my second child, a boy. I really should be better. His older sister, now a college sophomore, had already taught me how to say goodbyetwice

But I am NOT better. And he knows it. And it is too much for him.

He can’t be too close to emotions right now and I represent the emotions. He can’t be too close to the parent who talks about feelings and love and compassion. This is a dangerous and scary place for a 17-year-old boy to be. And even though his wife will thank me some day, right now I am a distraction from his mission—his mission to become a MAN. To prove that he is strong and capable and able to stand on his own ready to exit the nest—without his mom. And his mission in CA is to perform—to shine on the baseball field and to be sharp during his admissions interview. He needs to think, not feel. He needs to put his Game Face on. And dad is most definitely the Game Face guy.

But where does that leave me? In unknown territory. Adult son and his mother. A mother who needs to let go, and a son who is telling her to start now. She tells herself to trust that that her son loves her, that he will always appreciate having her as his mother, and that letting go doesn’t mean completely disconnecting from him—growing further and further apart so that eventually he will merely tolerate her, as is the case with so many grown men and their mothers she knows. It will be different. It has to be different. She tells herself all of this as she stares down at the pile of clothes that will not make it into her suitcase.

And maybe he is right. Maybe dad is the one to take him to CA. Because dad doesn’t look at him and allow nostalgia to plow him over—seeing a little boy who cried non-stop for the first 6 months of his life and then could not bear to be more than an arm’s length away from his mom. His dad does not feel, or certainly does not display, the ache of the snap back to the present moment when I see that this little boy is all grown up—and he doesn’t cry and does not want to be within an arm’s length of his mom. My son doesn’t see the pain of the inevitable separation all over his dad’s face like he sees it all over mine. My face is not a Game Face. My face reveals the love I feel for my son, and shows signs of the pain in my heart felt by a mother who hates letting go.

But the train is leaving the station and I can’t stop it. My son is getting ready to board the train. He went to CA with my husband. Readying me for the start of letting him go. Maybe I could start real simply—by putting away that pile of clothes on my floor.


  1. The train is leaving the station and I can’t stop it. Oh, how I relate to that. Heartbreaking, all of it, every day. I admit this was the part of parenting for which I was most entirely unprepared. xoxo

    • Thanks so much for reading and commenting, Lindsey. And yes, ouch!! Nobody really tells us about this part when they are cute and little…And I thought it would be easier the second time. But nope. Maybe by the 4th??? Kinda doubt it. XOXO

  2. As always, you shared your thoughts and emotions so eloquently about this topic. It’s funny (not haha funny but ironic actually) that in my house, it’s a little bit opposite. I say “a little bit” because I see my son switching back and forth as to which parent he prefers, depending on the situation. Lately, he wants me at the sports/games/showcases, etc. because he knows I don’t know enough about the sport to say anything other than “great job” whereas my husband will go into more detail about certain plays, drills, etc. And that kind of feedback tends to stress him out so he prefers more low-key (i.e., clueless) mom. On the other hand, we will get home from these things and he’ll go straight to his dad to discuss everything that went on that day. I think you have to look at it this way: it’s wonderful that your son can discuss all this and be honest with you. I suppose the “letting go” part never gets easy no matter how many kids we have to go through this with. Maybe re-phrase it as you are “launching him” out in to the world — at least that sounds better?

    • That is “funny” because as hard as I try to be “chill” about all the baseball stuff, I am kind of a stress case about it and I think that is why he prefers his dad during times when he needs the parent who can just be there and support him. But yes, I am there to give him encouragement and good food when he gets home. And yes, launching is better, although Wendy Mogel once told me once that they are not fully launched until the are off our payroll :). Thanks, Emily!

  3. Love this: “…noticing the “lasts,” while trying to hang onto the now…”

  4. Wow, Julie. . . that “tolerate” is hitting. Once in a while I already see hints of that. Can only imagine in time. 😦

  5. hitting me, I meant.

  6. Wow—this really hit me. I read it while I was on a college visiting trip with my son. I see myself trying to hang onto everything this year, because that’s it—he’s the last one, and that feels devastating to me. I know we raise our children to leave, but it’s so hard to face! I’m glad I’m not the only emotional one out there. Thanks for this post, Julie!

  7. When my daughter left for college, my son, a high school junior, told me his first thought was, “Oh no, now all of Mom’s attention will be on me!” Later on he told me I wasn’t as bad as he expected, although I did get very focused during college application season. When he chose the same college as his sister, that helped, to have them together. But now he’s a senior, and though he texts, he calls a little less. During a visit a few weeks ago, I saw a young man, and that made me happy and proud and a little sad. But this is who I raised him to be. You’ll get through this. We all do.

  8. Oh my, does this hit home for me already. Our oldest son is only a high school freshman and I’m already anticipating/dreading the transition to a new normal as he grows into a man. Thank you for sharing a bit of insight into what is necessary; they do need to prove to the world and themselves that they can make it without mom. And in the end, that is our job well done. Sigh…
    (Also, our nephew recently graduated after playing 4 yrs. of college baseball in CA. If your son is ever in need of more CA baseball connections, let me know.)
    Best, Angela

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