The Kids Grow Up; Letting Go is Hard to Do

You can get all sorts of help raising a child, but nothing prepares you for letting her go.”
Doug Block, documentary film maker of “The Kids Grow Up; Letting Go is Hard to Do

As a parent of a high school senior about to leave home, are you feeling

  • Elation or relief at the thought of your young adult (YA) leaving home soon?
  • Deep pains of despair, anxiety, or unexplained anger about her/his impending loss?
  • Or, a feeling in between or something completely different?

Whatever you’re feeling, allow it to flow and trust that there are solid reasons for it and you will benefit from allowing yourself to process it…

Then, when you’re ready,read this blog, which uniquely focuses on the parents’ emotional experience of watching their YA child leave home (whether it’s your first child or last child to leave the nest) and your own “midlife launch”.

In the documentary, “The Kids Grow Up; Letting Go is Hard to Do”, east coast film maker, Doug Block captures his heart wrenching (at times) experience of letting go of his only daughter, Lucy as she completes her senior year of high school and goes off to college on the west coast. In this film, the YA appears to seamlessly move through her senior year and launch to college while her father appears to struggle with anticipated grief throughout her final year and her mother falls into a depression for a short period, but overall is more resilient and able to access her wisdom to support her husband.

Some memorable lines from this documentary are:
Doug: “I’m basically traumatized, but trying to be stoic. What will life be like without any kids in the house? What will fill the vacuum?”
Another father of a son: “It’s a bummer. He’s the guy I hang out with when I get home at 11:00. He’s my best friend. I don’t want him…I’m fine. Don’t you just want to rewind and go back to 4th grade?”
Doug: “I keep thinking of all the things I wished I had done with her, all the things I wished I had said to her…” (when he drops his daughter off at college).
Doug’s sister: “Don’t do what I did. I picked fights with her. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was angry at her for leaving.” (recalling her reaction to her daughter launching)

When a family member leaves home, this is a huge transition for families. Yet, our American culture does not acknowledge this loss nor encourage~

  • YA’s to mourn the loss of their childhood
  • Parents to mourn the loss of their roles/identities as parents
  • Both to mourn the loss of their parent-child bond in healthy ways.

It is more likely that parents and their YA only celebrate the milestone of high school graduation with an alcoholic toast and focus on the YA’s next steps- work, college, independent living, etc.  And many YA’s are genuinely excited about crossing the bridge into adulthood.

Paradoxically, their parents may be feeling a range of difficult emotions, but keep these to themselves for fear of being judged by other adults or concern about not appearing supportive and happy for their YA’s accomplishment. It is also much less likely that friends and family ask the parents about their plans for the next chapter in their lives since most folks don’t consider the need for parents to also launch!In other words, parents seem to really get left out of this process.

Yet, according to Brad Sachs, PhD, a father of three “launched” YA’s, and therapist and author of Emptying the nest; Launching your young adult toward success and self-reliance
when parents launch themselves, they subsequently freetheir children to leave home.”

Parents who “Launch”~

  • find sources of gratification and fulfillment beyond their children (such as volunteering or contributing to a cause or pursuing a hobby they have long had a passion for)
  • reconnect and strengthen their bond as a couple (couples retreats & therapy can be instrumental)
  • widen their adult circle of friends/connect more with their community
  • identify and pursue their vocational calling or other individual goals or even just begin with rediscovering oneself (See “The Miracle of Midlife” by Marianne Williamson)
  • develop more mature and equal relationship with their adult children and look forward to possibly becoming a grandparent

Many parents do not consider the need to launch themselves or grieve because this isn’t prescribed by society and devoted parents are often so busy with balancing work and family responsibilities, including involvement in their YA’s lives, that they don’t have time or the awareness of the need to process this loss until they drop off their YA at college. Then, it hits them and I get a call.

In my work with parents, I find it extremely rewarding to support parents at this crossroads in their lives and both encourage them to grieve and to view their future with hope and opportunities for a fulfilling new chapter in their lives.

I also ask parents to dig deep and honestly look at their marital relationship, their individual lives, and their own YA experience of launching. This process allows parents to uncover if they have unresolved issues to work through from their past or present struggles they have not been able to look at given their focus on spending quality time and preparing their YA for his/her launch.

When parents strengthen their marriage and individual well-being, their YA feels freer to leave home.

When parents don’t work on their own areas of needed growth, it impedes their YA from leaving home since the YA consciously or unconsciously senses that his/her presence at home is the gluekeeping his/her family together.

I have tremendous empathy for the parents and YA’s when either party is struggling at this time. When I watched “The Kids Grow Up; Letting Go is Hard to Do”, my son was just 3 years old and I went through an entire Kleenex box! It makes sense for loving parents to mourn their YA leaving home!

As “The Kids Grow Up; Letting Go is Hard to Do” progressed, more uplifting, hopeful, and wise messages were shared such as:
Marjorie (Doug’s wife): “I was thinking about this book by a Buddhist author called A good life a good death. He makes a distinction between love and attachment. Love is wonderful and unselfish, but attachment is negative because it eats away at you and you can’t have it (ex. Keep their daughter close). Clinging to it creates unhappiness. If you can transform that into love…It’s like letting a butterfly go and watching what happens. That’s real love. It’s a hard thing to feel, but a wonderful thing to aspire to.”
~ In response to Doug’s lament about all the things he wished he had done with Lucy and said to her,
Marjorie: “That doesn’t stop now. You’ll get to know her better as she becomes an adult.”
Doug: “I’m not used to the quiet, but Lucy’s thriving and that’s what matters most. Fall is also my favorite season. I also have plenty of work projects to keep me busy.”
– Doug seems to be doing his best at having gratitude for what is good in this new chapter in his life.

Here are some ideas to help you “let go” of your YA:

1. Participate in a support group for “empty nesters”. Brene Brown says the most powerful words are “Me too”. We need to feel to heal and to dissolve our shame by telling our story in a room full of people who completely understand. To fully mourn, we need to “go backward before we can go forward”. It can be helpful and affirming to reflect on your experiences as a parent of a child before “crossing the bridge” to becoming a parent of an adult. Allow yourself to mourn in group, with your spouse, and/or by yourself. Watching the documentary, “The Kids Grow Up; Letting Go is Hard to Do” can help you have a cathartic cry.
I would be happy to facilitate this group with a minimum of five parents.

2. Engage in the “midlife launching” process. Change and growth doesn’t bring unhappiness; resistance to change does. Honestly consider the “parent launching” ideas above to decide which action step you can take to move forward in creating a fulfilling new chapter in your life. Also, read “The Miracle of Midlife” by Marianne Williamson, and identify goals and dreams you would like to pursue! Many people find their calling and/or achieve their greatest accomplishment after their kids leave home.

If you are feeling overwhelmed and not sure which direction you want to take your life in, consider a spiritual, personal growth, or couples retreat, individual and/or couples therapy, or career counseling.

3. Strive for equanimity to experience true serenity- the middle ground between craving/attachment and aversion. (meditate, pray, quiet walks in nature, yoga, an activity to put you in “flow”, relaxation practice, etc.) Be gentle with yourself as you are entering a new chapter in your life and it may take you some time to find the gifts or your new groove in this transitional time. If you keep searching, the answers will come.

For help in letting go of your YA and launching as a parent, contact Lana Isaacson, LCSW, CAC III, Certificate in Marriage and Family Therapy, at 720.432.5262 .

In closing,I would like to read the final pages from Let me hold you longer by Karen Kingsbury:
“For come some bright fall morning, you’ll be going far away.
College life will beckon in a brilliant sort of way.
One last hug, one last goodbye, one quick and hurried kiss.
One last time to understand just how much you’ll be missed.
I’ll watch you leave and think how fast our time together passed.
Let me hold on longer, God, to every precious last.”