The Smartest Thing We Ever Did For Our College-Aged Son

by Sharon Greenthal
Originally Published: 
College-aged son laying on a bench with his laptop at the park

When my son, my youngest, graduated from college, it meant that my days as a “mom” who gives my kids their allowance, reminds them of medical appointments, thank you notes, bank deposits, getting their cars washed, registering for classes, calling their grandmothers, ordering contact lenses, buying new underwear, and so many other things . . . those days were over.

Like with all children, raising my son was filled with moments that defined who he would become as a man. There he was at 18-months-old, getting fitted for glasses to correct his lazy eye, wearing a patch to pre-school for a year, and having surgeries to correct the problem. There he was at 5, starting kindergarten and meeting friends he still talks to every day. There he was at 8, walking to school alone for the first time. There he was at 14, hitting a triple in his last year playing little league baseball. There he was at 15, saying goodbye to the grandfather he loved so much. There he was at 17, starting on the varsity football team, when he was sidelined by a stress fracture to his femur, ending the best season of sports he’d ever had.

And there he was, almost 22, almost graduated, with a job waiting for him that he loves and—well. Had you told me this would happen when he started college four years earlier, I would have had my doubts. Not that he wasn’t capable, or smart, or even motivated. He just didn’t seem to me to be fully formed yet, a little out of focus, if you will. I watched my little boy, all 6’2″ of him, walk into his dorm the day we dropped him off at college and I knew, I just knew, that it wasn’t going to be easy for him. I was right. The work was difficult; the social life was challenging; the hot, desert weather was oppressive. Just living on his own, in a dorm room with a roommate he didn’t like—that was enough to worry any mother.

My husband and I tried to be two steps ahead of every possible dilemma that might come our son’s way, anxious to help smooth the bumpy road he traveled as a college freshman. We were still piloting that pesky helicopter that we’d been flying up and down, all of his life.

Then, after he came home junior year to go to community college for a semester and, making the best choice he’s ever made, decided to go back to the university he had left, my husband and I finally did something smart.

We left him alone.

Not that we weren’t there for him when he called. Not that we stopped worrying or thinking or wondering. Not that we ever stopped loving him fiercely. We just let him figure it out on his own. We finally decided to trust that he would make things work. And when we did that, he started to come into focus. It was as if a pair of binoculars were in front of my eyes and I had finally found the right setting. Or maybe he had.

What we must do for our older children—especially the ones who seem a little lost—is to learn to trust them, to believe in them, to encourage them to find their own way.

Let them figure out what’s going to make their lives come together, to bring clarity to their future. Let them stumble and make their own mistakes without rushing to fix things for them. Let them find the thing that they will feel as passionate about as we do about them. Let them grow up, grow away, grow strong.

The best thing we can do is to let them go.

This article was originally published on