How to let go: The joy and sorrow of parenting young adults

Are you in the process of letting go? The emotions of parenting young adults pull you in opposite directions and spin you around without any regard for your parent heart. Inside: Tips on dancing with joy and sorrow!

Guest post on parenting young adults

The two oldest of my five children have officially left home. One is a US Marine deployed overseas. The other is in college.
The extra leaf in the table will be taken out; we’ll put on the shorter tablecloth. It’s back to uneaten leftovers and a gallon of milk that goes bad before it’s emptied.

I’m thrilled that I’ve got some noise, laughter, and chaos for a little while longer. It’s not lost on me that one day we’ll be three, then two, and then just me — like it is when they visit their dad.

The departure from home looks different for each of the grown guys

The oldest is dropped off at the airport curb with his government-issued duffle bag and newly cropped hair. I’m not allowed to go in.
“Mom, we can’t drag this out. I need you to leave me, because you know I can’t leave you. I love you, mom.”

I do my best to make the encouraging and positive tone in my voice mask the tears streaming down my face, as I reiterate how proud I am of who he has become. And that no matter where life and the military take him I know he has what it takes to do well and to be brave.

I choke out the whisper, “I’m praying for you…every single day…every single minute.
I know you are mom,” he whispers in my ear.
Neither of us ever looks back after we’ve said goodbye.


For the second child — who I get to see monthly thanks to visits with his high school girlfriend (now bride-to-be) — I say:

“Honey, I’m so sorry I didn’t have time to make cookies before you left.
I promise I’ll send a package.
And thank you for all the help you were to me this summer with the other three kids while grandma was dying.
I couldn’t have done it without you.
Oh … and I owe you money for all the Whataburger and Chick fil a you fed people.”

Mom! Stop! I’m not taking your money. And you’re welcome. I wouldn’t have been anywhere else.
We talk about the excitement of the upcoming wedding, the classes he’s going to be taking, and what job he’ll get on campus.

And as he sweetly smiles at me after he says, “I love you, mom,” the third son is pulled close to me because he’s closest in range.
I soak his shirt with my tears. He’s 15. He looks down at me, then at his shirt. “Ugh…mom! You got my shirt all wet. That’s gross.” And since I don’t let go of him, he says, “Oh well. Mom, are you gonna be OK?

I laugh as I remind him, “Of course I will; we’ve been through worse than this!” He’s completely confused, but relieved.

Learning a new dance while parenting young adults

Several of you have experienced similar feelings recently.

In her book, I Will Carry You: The Sacred Dance of Grief and Joy, Angie Smith writes about the internal pull of the two opposite emotions.

Picture that in your mind for a minute. One “partner” in the dance — the grieving side of the heart — is expressing the deep and real pain of loss. This sadness for a parent letting go is because the person you poured countless hours of care and love into is now absent. Gone from the daily experiences in their present life, far away from the watchful eye.

Sometimes a whole world away.

The other partner in the dance is expressing the overwhelming pride and joy of seeing their child succeed, achieve independence, and begin moving into the role of companion and friend. It’s the day this child was raised for — the culmination of so much hard work and prayer. It might feel like a treasured masterpiece is being revealed to the world.

Make no mistake. It’s a dance. Beautiful or terrible. In sync or out of step. There are two polar opposite sets of emotions that are trying desperately to reach some kind of peace. One pulls against the other, creating a swirling activity of emotion and unpredictable responses. Hopefully they work with — and not against — each other.

If you’re like me, you might not be a great dancer.

From fits of laughter to a puddle on the floor

I have a friend who experienced a deep loss a few years ago. She came over and we were trying desperately to find a pocket of joy in the situation. What began as a heartfelt fit of laughter, turned into the two of us holding each other on the floor in a heap of tears.

For those parents with the new found loss of little ones starting school, older ones starting high school, or big ones leaving home or moving on in life: you, too, may swing from fits of laughter to a puddle on the floor.

I believe what Jesus told his disciples in John 16:20 about his death and resurrection is true for us here: “You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn to joy.” I love that. This hope is reiterated in several other areas of scripture.

Isaiah 61 says he can take our crown of sorrow and anoint us with the oil of gladness. He can remove our spirit of despair and put on a garment of praise. While it’s not a promise that applies directly to parental release, I do believe it’s the heart of God to gift it to us when we ask it of Him.

In the studio of the Throne of God

As loving parents, we continue to try and figure out what new dance steps are required to express that sorrow while trying not to discourage our children from finding their own rhythm.

We transition from being the one person that tiny baby depended on for every single thing in their life, to maybe being the parent whose kid neglects to call from college, or fails to visit much their first time home on leave.

Thankfully, joy steps in and twirls us around when we get an unsolicited call or text, or we find ourselves thrilled to stay up and have the late night talk on a visit home.

Joy leads when we get the text that says, “Mom, please pray for me,” but in the sway of sorrow we already were praying.
We’re caught up in a beautiful synchronization before the throne of God who sees it all and is incredibly delighted to see it unfold.

He loves to see us grow — to see us get better at the dance.

The author of this guest post, Michelle Deavenport, has been my friend for almost three decades. We raised babies together and she taught me how to mop a floor with a dish rag (my whole family still calls this technique the “Michelle Mop”). She also taught me to explain to my stubborn two-year-old that ALL of my friends’ homes had easy access to a wooden spoon. She can be found on her own blog: Pursuing Hope and Finding Joy.

Michelle, guest author on parenting young adults

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Launching teenagers into young adulthood is not for the faint of heart.
Parenting teens is hard.
You’ll be reminded you’re not alone in this stage.



26 responses to “How to let go: The joy and sorrow of parenting young adults”

  1. Amy Avatar

    The problem I have with this whole transition is that I am missing the joy due to the choices that my daughters are/have made. First the oldest. Knowing what she was planning and where she was spiritually, I had no joy in watching her graduate. Now I am watching my youngest get ready to graduate and, at first, I thought this time would be different. Yes, sorrow that she is leaving me with an empty nest, but at least she was making good choices. How wrong I was. I have since come to find out that she is making terrible choices, things that could effect her future and her life. And once again, I face this last graduation with no joy. Just sorrow, fear and even disgust.
    If I was just facing an empty nest, that would be difficult enough. But this, well all joy and pride in my child(ten) have been taken from me. And though I have prayed until I’m blue in the face, things just get worse rather then get better.
    I had so hoped that this graduation would be one of happiness, but that has been taken away.
    Two children. Two sad and depressing graduations. I am so jealous of those mothers who get to experience a good time/event with their young people. I feel that I will never get to experience that. And I won’t, as this is my last child.

    1. Christi Avatar

      Amy, I am so sorry for this pain. The agony of watching your kids walk this road is one of the deepest sorrows there is. This friend and the author of this post knows this sorrow well. She is my hero on so many levels, and I stand in awe of how she has continued to find the joy. I pray you are comforted as you wait for your prayers to be answered.

  2. Ray Wells Avatar
    Ray Wells

    Beautiful, Michelle! I could say many things, but I’ll just say “I love you.” I know you have had a difficult journey, but you have been so faithful and we’re so proud of your kids. And Ms.Gee, as we pray for your journey into this new world of “no child left behind” (cute,huh?) I hope that you will always continue to practice with your parents (umm, that’d be me & Mom) what you want from BAMM. Love you. Daddy

  3. Rebecca Gate Avatar
    Rebecca Gate

    This has been such an encouragement to me. I have been struggling with my eldest on the cusp of leaving home. I am super excited for him, and so proud of him, but I am going to miss him so much. The way you describe it as a dance makes me realise that actually, this is a beautiful thing, and a dance I must finish with Jesus leading me round the floor. Thank you for writing x

    1. Christi Avatar

      Oh, dear sister … hang on. I can tell from your comment that you have your focus in the right place. Jesus will lead and will not let you trip! Thank you for letting me know this resonated!

  4. michdeaven Avatar

    Thank you for your encouragement. Only in this arena is “making me cry” a compliment. :)

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