There once was a single mom whose son joined the military. She missed him terribly, and greatly enjoyed his brief, rare visits home whenever he could get a weekend pass. He was stationed in Florida, so driving home to Chicago and back took up much of the weekend, giving this mom only a few precious hours with her son.
Then one weekend he came home just long enough to say that he was going out with a girl he’d been writing to. Leaving his bag of dirty laundry in the foyer, he shaved and changed into a new suit, then flew out the door.
Late that night, after dropping his date off at her house, he arrived home to see his dirty laundry scattered across the front yard. Some of it was hanging from the trees. He had just enough time to gather up his clothes and head back to Florida, leaving one very angry mom in his wake.
That’s a true story. I often heard both sides of it, because the mom was my grandmother, the son was my dad, and his date was my mom. Whenever my dad told the story, he always laughed about it. But when my grandma told it, anyone could see that she hadn’t completely gotten over her anger.
It wasn’t just the dirty laundry that he expected her to wash, of course. It was the idea that she was no longer his priority when he came home. The many sacrifices she’d made for him and his siblings no longer seemed to matter. All he cared about was some girl he’d met, at least as far as my grandma was concerned.
Another true story that happened to a friend of mine, who is a mom of many children: one of her middle children was the first to go away to college. He was the family clown whose sunny disposition was a bright spot in her life. But whenever he came home for the weekend, he was so busy with his friends that she hardly got to see him. Needless to say, she was very excited that he would be home for the summer, working a summer job to earn money for the coming school year.
Imagine her disappointment when he called to say that he was able to borrow a lot more than he expected in student loans, so he would be spending the summer touring Europe with friends. She barely saw him at all that summer; by the time he came home from Europe, he had to pack up and leave for the fall semester of college.
I felt sorry for my friend when that happened, just as I felt sorry for my grandma when she talked about throwing my dad’s dirty laundry out of the window in anger. But it wasn’t until I had to let go of my own kids that I truly understood how my friend and my grandma felt. It hurts, a lot, and the kids don’t notice because they’re too busy taking on their future.
That said, what’s the alternative? Do you really want to lock up that adult child and keep them close, preventing them from leaving home, finding work, finding love? A common Internet meme is the 30-year-old living in Mom’s basement playing video games and trolling forums. Is that how you hoped your child would turn out? I doubt it.
No, we have to let our kids go. It’s OK to acknowledge the hurt, and to move on (which can be even more difficult than the original letting go). But it has to be done, so that your child can become the person God intends them to become. It also frees you to embrace the next stage of your own life (which is a whole ‘nother topic.)