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.

Did You Know that Motherhood is a Competitive Sport?

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I didn’t really either until I had kids. It starts when they are babies, “My kid is 18 months old and still doesn’t sleep through the night.”  “Oh really? Sucks for you, my kid started sleeping through the night the very first night he came home from the hospital and has done so ever since.”  Then the competitive banter moves to when they start walking, talking, reading, writing, adding, subtracting and goes all the way to their GPAs, SAT scores and what college they are attending.

I am all for healthy competition. I think it is part of what makes the world go around. But the idea that parents are competing with each other based on their children’s merits…to me, this is downright crazy!

Our children naturally compete with each other, hopefully in a motivating way, but competition can be difficult for kids to navigate. Parents can be helpful or hurtful in the way they teach their children to deal with competition. It is essential for parents to look inward and be aware of how much they are using their children’s accolades to boost their own self-esteem and their feelings about themselves as a parent. Beware of this mindset: “Just look at how great my kid is! I did this!”

This issue is often taken to an extreme when it comes to kids in sports. I am blown away by the adolescent behaviors that are demonstrated by adults when it comes to kids and their sports. Are some parents trying to realize their own unfulfilled dreams through their children? Do they have early visions of their kid playing at Wimbledon, the Super Bowl or the World Series and will stop at nothing to make sure these visions become a reality (and actually think that they have that much control)?  There are actually two issues at hand here. The first involves how hard parents push their kids in sports (and in life, which I will cover in another post), and the second is how some parents develop extreme levels of competition with other parents in an effort to try to get their child “ahead” of others.

As I talk with other moms about this, I find that I am not the only mom who has been completely ignored by another mom who is pissed off that my son was chosen for a certain team and hers wasn’t, or that my son was getting more playing time than hers. Mothers have shared with me stories of how teammates’ parents have marched into coaches’ offices and ranted and raved, “How could you choose Susie for the last remaining varsity lacrosse spot?! My daughter is so much stronger and has trained so much harder! That should be her spot!” And to get even more infantile, this mother will proceed to give both Susie and her mom the stink-eye any opportunity she gets.

I am not saying that I have not felt that surge of competition or even jealousy if another kid gets picked for a team or a position over my kid. Of course, I have, this is only natural. But it is what we do with these feelings that matters.  I am not mad at the parents of the kid who got picked over my son. I am not mad at the kid either. Or the coach. I may be disappointed but I try to deal with that disappointment, and not take it out on others.

How I treat my son’s teammates and their parents is not going to affect whether my kid gets more or less playing time, or gets the position for which he is competing. I wonder if some of these parents who chose to treat other parents and kids poorly think that this is some kind of intimidation tactic. The only word I can think of in response to that is, “ICK!”  Another disturbing fact that I have learned is that sometimes the kid, whose parents are acting like this, doesn’t care that much about whether he makes the team or gets on first or second line on her hockey team. Also, she has no problem with her teammates or their parents. It is solely an issue for the kid’s parents! They are competing for the kid’s spot on the team more than the kid is! So, what I would like to ask these parents is, “Who this really about, your kid or you?”

Obviously, this issue has hit a nerve with me. Quite honestly, I was very hurt and blindsided by a mom who recently chose to act this way toward me. All I can say is that if your kid is on my kids’ team, I will talk to you in the stands, I will cheer like crazy for your kid, as I do for every kid on the team, and this is what I will tell my kid about being on a team and competition:

  • Work hard and always show respect to your teammates and your coaches.
  • Cheer on your teammates! Even if you are sitting on the bench and are not happy about it.
  • When it comes to direct competition with a teammate: Maybe you are better, maybe he is, but this competition will force you to continually strive to improve.
  • Ultimately it is up to the coach to make the decisions for the team. Respect that (and so will I.)
  • Welcome to life. It isn’t always fair. You will compete for a job. Sometimes you will get it, sometimes you won’t. End of story.
  • Don’t ever give up, on yourself, on your team or on your coach.
The Blog of Author Tim Ferriss

Tim Ferriss's 4-Hour Workweek and Lifestyle Design Blog. Tim is an author of 5 #1 NYT/WSJ bestsellers, investor (FB, Uber, Twitter, 50+ more), and host of The Tim Ferriss Show podcast (400M+ downloads)

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