Letting go of grown children can be a very difficult, emotional experience for any parent. It is a choice all parents must make at some point in their lives, whether they are mentally ready for it or not. As a single mother, I too faced this moment of truth once. When my only daughter, Jasmine, turned 23 she began to assert her independence and I felt my ground shake a little. Jasmine was no longer my “Little Girl.” Rather, she was blooming into a beautiful, intelligent woman who knew exactly what she wanted and where she was headed. I was scared out of my mind, as I was not ready for this transition. I wanted the world to freeze this moment in time for me. I wanted to hold her tightly and never let go.
When Jasmine moved out, reality sank in. I took this very hard, very personally. I felt my world falling apart and I slipped into a depression. My only child had left home and I had no control. The pain was unbearable. “How could she do this to me?” I thought.
I realized I needed to deal with my pain and reached out for help. My mentor tried to help me understand and connect with the emotion that Jasmine’s leaving home and asserting her independence was a healthy choice on her part. This was all about her journey of self-discovery and not, in any way, a negative reflection of my parenting skills. I was still confused and could not relate.
I went to see my therapist. The first three sessions were just tears, tears and more tears. I felt betrayed. I felt devastated. In my fourth session, the therapist asked me to describe the various aspects of Jasmine’s leaving home that were most painful. I remember telling her that after 23 years my life felt empty and my house was a lonely place.
As I choked on my emotions, I also explained that the most painful time for me was in the evening. The entrance door to my apartment has three locks from the inside. When Jasmine was living at home and out for the evening, I would only fasten the first two locks, leaving the third lock, a deadbolt, unlocked so she would have easy access into the apartment after I fell asleep. When she moved out, I would come home from work and immediately fasten all three locks from the inside because I knew I did not have to wait for any one else. It was attending to this third lock each evening that was the most painful. The third lock was a symbol of something definite, a certainty I knew in my heart that could never be reversed. It reminded me of how strong willed my daughter was and of her determination to break away from me to build her own place in the world. At the time, this reality made me very sad and unwanted as a mother.
The therapist listened gracefully and then said to me, “You are obviously in pain, but I would like you to look at that third lock from a different perspective. From now on, every time you put the third lock on say to yourself: this lock is a symbol of strength and courage. This lock will now enable me to appreciate and understand the fact that I have raised a very strong, independent daughter who has the courage to build her own life away from me. Her individuation is truly a gift and I am grateful.”
None of this made any sense to me; however, I was willing to try anything at this point to feel better. Over the next several weeks, I put this exercise into practice and I faithfully chanted these words each evening as I attended to the third lock. The first few days were treacherous and brutal because I just could not stop crying. My emotional state was such that I felt numb. I continued on, regardless of my emotional state.
All of a sudden, one evening, after several weeks of repeatedly doing the same thing, I made the connection. Light bulbs went on and clarity set in. Gradually, my world began to change and I began to appreciate, understand and embrace my daughter’s courage. I realized that up until now, I was a bit selfish, a bit insecure and a bit stubborn. I was so focused on my own pain that I failed to realize how difficult it must have been for Jasmine to take that first bold step. This revelation was magical and I cried one more time, except these were tears of joy and awareness.
Jasmine’s choice to leave home and explore her own freedom had nothing to do with me. I had given her a very strong foundation of love and nurturing and she flew from my nest when she was ready. What a beautiful, natural and healthy event to have taken place. It was not too late for me to accept this change in my life, as this was a new beginning for both of us.
I was filled with gratitude and a brand new appreciation for my own life as an independent woman. All these years I had devoted my life to raising my daughter; some even say I put my life on hold. I had no regrets, but for the first time in years, I felt and realized that there indeed was freedom for me as well. I was free to pursue my own dreams and find a new purpose. The process of “letting go” was painful, but it is also helped me to embrace a new life for myself. I felt joy as I transitioned into the next exciting phase of my own life.
Today, our relationship as mother and daughter has escalated to a whole new level of growth and understanding. I share a very healthy, loving relationship with my grown daughter. She is living the life of her dreams in New York, making a difference in the lives of others and I live a life of gratitude in Canada, enjoying my new found freedom. I do not look back in anger or self-pity any more, but rather, in humility and appreciation. I am truly grateful for this chain of events in my life and how “letting go” of my daughter has allowed me to open my mind to new experiences for myself. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!
_________________________________________________________________________________I would like to dedicate this article, with gratitude, to the following three people: To my friend and mentor, Dr. Dov Baron, who with his candor, helped me grasp the concept of “self-awareness.” He gave me my first valuable life lesson on how to take a step back from being a “smothering mother” to a mother who could embrace the changes that were about to occur in my life. To my therapist, Louise, who saw my pain and worked with me diligently as I traveled this journey to put my self-awareness to action. Louise was instrumental in helping me cross the bridge of change so I could land on the other side safe and sound, with my dignity intact. And to Jasmine, my beautiful daughter, who showed me that it takes strength, courage and some defiance to build a successful, independent life.