A lesson from my mother: Letting Go

“It's come at last", she thought, "the time when you can no longer stand between your children and heartache.” ― Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
Over the years, I quickly dismissed most of the advice my mother gave me.  She wasn’t witty or wise.  She expressed her worries and regrets as criticisms and directives for living a life that didn’t interest me.

Occasionally, her advice would be both annoying and comical, as when she spent the first week of my son’s life trying to convince me that if I did not tape his ear against his head it would, “stick out funny the rest of his life.”  It didn’t.

Mostly, though, her advice was forgettable.

What I learned from my mother – both good and bad – I learned by her example.

It’s intimidating to think about, but being a parent means having everything you say and do scrutinized by your children.  With their spouses one day, they’ll be analyzing it all, peppering their conversations with “We’ll never do that.”

When I began my motherhood journey, my list of I won’t was considerably longer than the list of ways in which I wished to emulate my mother.

Over the past twenty three years of parenting, though, my sympathy for my mother has grown.

Grown don't mean a nothing to a mother.  A child is a child.  They get bigger, older, but grown?  What's that supposed to mean?  Toni Morrison, BelovedIt wasn’t the years of parenting toddlers or young children that softened me, nor the endurance trials of the teenaged years.

My parenting style never came to resemble my mother’s, and she never stopped giving me unwanted advice.

Unsolicited Advice became part of a new list of Things Not to Do to Adult Children, most of which fell under the resolution Let My Children Lead their Own Lives.

Keeping that resolution has been a learning process, the one that has greatly increased my sympathy for my mom.

Watching my mother be the parent to an adult who was sometimes struggling, I could see her pain.  Watching her learn – slowly – to swallow her words, to – eventually – not swoop in to rescue, and to – finally – be quietly supportive when I knew she wanted to scream and cry.

It took a long time, but after nearly fifty years of parenting, amazingly, she let go.  Not every problem was her problem to solve.  Not every mistake was hers to point out and correct.  Not every circumstance required her advise.

I doubt she feels this way, but in my eyes, these last few have been her finest years of parenting.

Letting go is probably the hardest lesson she learned, and the one she taught the best.

Just in time, too, because I already have adult children whom I, at times, want to swoop down and rescue.  Ones who need to figure out life on their own.  Ones for whom I am praying earnestly.  Ones who probably wish I gave a little less unsolicited advice.


This post is part of a Generation Fabulous Blog Hop. Would you like to read more of the lessons we’ve learned from our mothers?  Click here.


42 thoughts on “A lesson from my mother: Letting Go

  1. I enjoyed this. My mom still hasn’t learned that lesson, lol. But I’d imagine that is one I’d like to learn, one day… in the very distant future.

  2. Oh, I’m not ready for this one! My kids are 15 and 11. I am really enjoying them, and I am holding on tight until they launch. Well, my son is pushing me away pretty hard. I am trying to give him some space, but I am always giddy when he asks me to watch Doctor Who with me. And, of course, he needs me for transportation and relies on me for food. I guess I’ll figure this one out over the next decade. Waaa. Glad to hear your mom found a way to let go. Finally. (My mom holds on pretty tight still. I need to learn to ignore her when she intrudes, but I push. A little too hard sometimes.)

  3. Fantastic lesson she gave you. Letting go is the hardest of all..bravo that she accomplished this and to you, for seeing it. I too, dismissed my mother’s advice..as do my kids mine. But that’s ok, we are teaching them every time we take a breath..scary, isn’t it?! I so realte to what you say about the critical part and having learned what you would not do… but I now know that those lessons are just as powerful as the ones that teach what we will do, in fact, probably even more so. And In a strange, mysterious way, they too, can be great gifts, if we can see them for what they are and learn from them..no easy task 🙂 Beautiful post.

    • Thank you, Amy. As I’ve read the bloghop posts today, I’ve been reminded that the important part is that we do learn, however the lessons were presented to us.

  4. This is so wise and I am now going to think about how you believe her most recent years of parenting have been her finest. Letting go of our children and learning to resist the urge to “swoop down” is very hard, especially if you have a grown up (or not so grown) child who is struggling. Great post!

    • It is hard. No matter what their parenting style has been, I see so many people unsure about how to parent their struggling adult children. How much help is too much help? How far do you let them fall?

  5. One of the most important jobs of parents is to push those babis out of the nest and let them fly. It’s a hard parenting lesson to learn. Thanks for sharing your story.

  6. I think you’ve touched on one of the hardest things in parenting to do: to NOT do.

    This is one of those posts that will stay with me long after I click away. Thank you for this.

  7. You’ve captured the most challenging part of motherhood in a beautiful tribute to your mom, who finally figured it all out. Letting go takes more love than holding on ever will. I’ve never been really good at the things most mothers are, so my ability to let go of advice and opinions has not been as difficult as it is for most. When I recently told my daughter she should have a fling with a movie star she interviewed, she said, “Mom, you are truly my moral compass.” Oh well. I loved your story.

    • Sadly, I was best at the years my children will never remember. The teen years leave me wishing they’d just grow up already…..which does make letting go easier.

  8. My own mother was so good at biting her tongue and withholding advice unless it was asked. That’s one lesson I’m still struggling with, although I think I’ve gotten much better now that they’re grown. (My kids might disagree, though. Sigh.)

  9. I love your honesty and above-board directness on your true feelings about your mom (not an easy thing to do) and your own feelings toward her. I imagine this was both cathartic and enlightening for you. Quite a post, and I loudly applaud you for it.

  10. Ginger, what a honest look at the complex relationship between mothers and daughters. Biting my tongue is an art that I am still trying to master as a mother of children who have grown and flown.

  11. You had me with your first paragraph….that completely described my mother! I’m struggling to find the balance of letting go. It’s hard when they are still living with you, as my youngest is. My oldest, I knew to back off from and STILL I get accused of either butting my nose in or not caring. I can’t seem to win with that one.

    • I think the balance between not caring and butting in often has more to do with their mood than our actions. So you’re right, there is no predictable win there.

  12. popping in from the equis place link up!

    lovely post and one that is exactly what i needed to read today. although, my kids are wee, your perspective rang true. thanks.

  13. You speak such wise words here! Once a mother, always a mother, but it doesn’t mean that giving constant advice is necessary. When I was living with my mother, the role of her advice was much worse, and it’s gotten better since I moved out. But you’re right that in living through an experience, it makes one much more empathetic to the plight of others. Thanks for sharing and for linking up with Equis Place!

  14. Letting go is the most difficult thing. I think that is why I loved when my girls were infants, they were just so needy and I couldn’t really “spoil” them. The letting go began when they began walking. With each fall I would run over to pick them up. Then I realized they could get up on their own. The success made them more confident. Now that they are teens, I sometimes wish they were physically small enough to be picked up and out of harms way. I can’t imagine them as adults…. This is a lovely, lovely post. I have much gratitude for you writing and sharing it.

  15. My mom never learnt to let go. When I read about attachment parenting, it reminds me on how my mom raised me as a child (and my siblings too), co-sleeping, baby wearing, the whole lot. The problem is even after my siblings and i are well and trully into our teenage years, it was hard for her to let go. We were not allowed to move out unless we got married (which I did when I was 25), and I was never allowed to have any sleep over.. Even when I was 20! Every time I go out with friends, she’d follow me around.. Even to school camp. I was being followed all the time, no joke. One time when I was 17, after begging and crying, my mom allowed me to go to Melbourne with my best friend’s family (whom I have known since I was 7) for a weekend trip. The next day, she actually flew to Melbourne with my whole family because she was worried about me. Now I’m 28 and am pregnant with my first child, I am resenting the way my mom brought me up. I hope i could be a better mother without a life time of separation anxiety.

    • That is sad, both for you and your mother. She sounds like a very fearful and lonely person. That need to control is not normal. I know many who considered themselves attachment parenting moms, and none of them behaved like that as their children grew older. I wish you well in finding a healthier way for yourself and your child(ren).

  16. Hi Ginger! I am here from Teaching What Is Good.

    Wow. You sure are teaching what is good today. I am a Mom-in-Law twice, and holding back is an art form. I’m not much of an artist! But I am learning by remembering what my parents were like with me. They held back a lot, I’m sure! I was very fortunate in that, and I try to pay that forward, but it is hard.

    Very thought provoking post for a Nana!
    Nice to meet you, Ginger 🙂

  17. Thank you for this post. Unfortunately we appreciate our mothers long after we leave home and it is impossible to know how much we put them through by not considering their wisdom. I am linking up after you over at Kate’s Tuesday Linkup.

    • I think we learn, to a certain extent, as our own children grow, but each of us reacts differently. Letting go and accepting the changing role of mom comes more easily to some than others. Then, too, some mothers are more opinionated than wise,

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