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. Brenda Avatar

    Awe, what a lovely post. Transition is rough, good or bad, it’s change, and change has a way of making everyday life, suddenly foreign. ((Hug)) Thanks for sharing. :)

    1. michdeaven Avatar

      It does feel suddenly “foreign”. Thank you for your kind words.

  2. Christi Avatar

    Thank you all for these wonderful, heart-felt comments. I am making sure Michelle sees them. I know she will be encouraged by your words

  3. Candace Avatar

    This is so sweet and I can relate to the dance of those 2 emotions. My oldest daughter is now living on her own and I completely relate to your words here. Thank you for sharing your beautiful feelings and experience. This from your sweet son: “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 would have been a crying mess. How incredibly touching!

    1. michdeaven Avatar

      Praying you have the presence of Christ as you are learning your own dance steps. God’s Joy to you on the journey!

  4. Valerie Avatar

    Simply beautiful! My heart aches thinking of those days ahead. For now I am about to send my youngest to kindergarten. The waltz begins and will continue. God bless all you waltzing mamas. May God wipe your tears and keep your heart strong.

    1. michdeaven Avatar

      Live in your moment and savor the mundane. :) Memories and conversations with my boys about all the things that once seemed boring bring great joy to all of us now. God’s Joy to you this year with your kinder baby.

  5.  Avatar

    Thanks Christi for staying after her!! Her passion for the Lord and her family are inspirational and she is a gifted story teller! Love you Michelle thanks for sharing and making me cry!!

    1. michdeaven Avatar

      Only in this arena is “making me cry” a compliment. Thank you for your sweet words of encouragement.

  6. Julie Swirsky Avatar
    Julie Swirsky

    Written as only Michelle can write. Beautiful. Heart grabbing. Tear causing. Thought provoking. So full of The Real You echoing what we all are feeling about life. Thank you for “giving in” to Christie!

    1. michdeaven Avatar

      I can’t say enough about how much I appreciate your many, many years and tears of faithful love and friendship on my journeys. You’ve had a front row seat. I appreciate that you are voluntarily reliving it. Love you, friend.

  7. Shei Avatar

    Love you, Michelle. So thankful for your friendship with my sister-in-law. From you I have learned grace and strength and beauty and the unbelievable blessing and necessity of having grown-up girlfriends! When I was a brand new bride embracing a new level of adulthood, I watched the two of you. I learned from you. I dreamed of having a “Michelle friend” in my grown-up life. I vowed to be a “Michelle friend.” From you I learned that time and distance and different life paths may separate you, but the bond that the Lord forms between people is strong, and a friendship like the one you and Christi have had for so many years is an undeniable testimony to how He can close those gaps and bring you back together to be a powerful force for His Kingdom (even if you’re still hours away from each other!). I found my “Michelle friend,” and though I see her way more on Facebook than in actual life, I know she’s there and our bond can never be broken. Bonus: Now I also get to be friends with YOU – the REAL Michelle – and you are as Spirit-filled and beautiful and wonderful and lovely as 19-year-old me remembers. That’s a “Yes, plus!” answer to prayer. God said, “Yes, you can have a friend like Michelle. PLUS, you can have actual Michelle!” Obviously He knew that I still needed to learn a lot from you.

    This post is beautiful and I will be reading it often as I brace myself for that dance that once seemed so far away, but is now rapidly tapping its way into my reality. Laughter and puddles are already blending themselves together in my heart. It’s just a matter of time before I’m in the fetal position on my floor. :) Please come to Fort Worth and visit me. It’s so much closer than Virginia. I love you!!!

    1. michdeaven Avatar

      Dear, sweet Shei. I’m so glad that you can sift through my nonsense and find the best things about me, while blowing away the dirt and debris. You are precious to love all of me, and yet remember only the best, as I’ve been stupid and insensitive at times. Praying for your beautiful year, that you don’t let the sorrow overshadow the many wonders of this boy-man transition and that you capture heart pictures everyday. Love you

  8. Anita Avatar

    Michelle—your words always make me think, sometimes make me cry, and often make me laugh. LOVE, LOVE this. Thank you for sharing your heart with this wider community. God has gifted you with much to say as His beautiful messenger. Love you!!!

    1. michdeaven Avatar

      When I write, sometimes I can just imagine that I have you as a trapped, I mean captive, audience sitting knee to knee. You have sharpened, stretched and encouraged me all along my stumbles (3 teenagers flying across the world in a less-than-wise-from-human-perspective itinerary…you were patient and forgiving.) Love you, too.

  9. Andrea Avatar

    Christi, thank you for staying on her to write this! This is beautiful. Every word. Michelle, if you read this, I’m praying that you find peace in the dance. Thank you for sharing your heart with us. I don’t take that lightly.

    1. michdeaven Avatar

      Andrea, I actually wrote much of that two years ago. I’m thrilled to say that “joy comes in the morning” and in the “mourning”. Thank you for receiving my heart. God’s Joy to you!

  10. Ray Wells Avatar
    Ray Wells

    Ahh, Michelle. That is so perfect. Love your heart. Love your message. And I love that throughout the dance you’ve stayed on your feet, holding tight to your Partner and He to you. (And I love that the mis-assigned “roomate” that I helped move out of that dorm room 30 years ago is in the lives of our family even today.) Good job. Love you.

    1. michdeaven Avatar

      Love you, too, Dorm Dad. I appreciate what you are in my life, almost 30 years later. What a ride.

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