When You Realize That Parenting Means Constantly Letting Go

by Emily Weiss
Originally Published: 

The head of the preschool my kids attended once said, “Parenting is really just one long good-bye.” At the time, she was trying to alleviate the anxiety of us over-anxious, first-time mommies, who were leaving our children for a few hours at their first school experience. Her words have always stuck with me, because she is right. Parenting is a never-ending journey of constantly saying good-bye and gradually letting go.

My kids were “promoted” this week. One finished elementary school and one finished middle school. I assume they don’t call it graduation because they are not receiving a degree, and by calling it “promotion,” it still allows us to mark this rite of passage.

I took the obligatory promotion portraits of my kids in their outfits that will most likely only be worn once. I snagged one shot of Cal as he walked out with the 450 other middle-schoolers, most of whom I’ve never seen before. I missed one of Eli because, unbeknownst to us, we were sitting on the wrong side of the auditorium. I posted them on Facebook with a glib reference to them growing up. But honestly, I find myself wanting to cry uncontrollably at the whole thing.

They are getting bigger, older and more wise to the world. They have lives we are not always privy to anymore. They have friends I don’t always know and emotions they don’t always want to share, and they spend lots of time away from us—even when we are all in the same house. They are pulling away, like they are supposed to, like we are supposed to let them.

In four years, my oldest will leave for college. Four years is not a long time. I find myself saying things like, “Let me show you how to do this because it might come in handy when you are at college.” They think I’ve totally lost it, roll their eyes, and sometimes indulge me. They don’t yet know that the time they have left living in our home will flash by in an instant.

This is part of the long good-bye. This is the part of the journey that you know is coming—the rites of passage that signify growth—but are never really prepared for. We have to slowly let them go and fly on their own. It is our job as their parents.

As much as I intellectually understand this is a part of the job, my heart will never let go.

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