August is a time for new beginnings for students; however, for parents of children venturing off to college for the first time, it’s also a time for letting go. It’s the moment parents begin to learn the true dichotomy of parenting, whereby our roles transition from that of the all-consuming provider of knowledge, safety, and security, of all the necessities of life, to one of advisor and occasionally counselor when needed, and still to some extent main financial resource. This parenting transition can be difficult for a variety of reasons.
When your child is born into this world, they look up at you with total and complete dependence. This is scary at first for many new parents—the thought that your child’s entire existence depends on you. The upside is that this moment of fear doesn’t last long, whether it’s hearing your newborns cooing that embraces your heart, or hearing the cry of hunger that makes you quickly jump into action and brings you out of your dismay.
From that very first day, they look to you as their parents for all the essentials of life and a whole lot more. As they grow, they need your help to learn to sit up, crawl and eventually learn to walk. They need you to teach them words, so they can communicate, something that eventually can come back to haunt you when they’re older (but that’s another story). They need protection, guidance, understanding, compassion, empathy, a helping hand or a listening ear when they feel they’ve been wronged. They need help with their homework, learning responsibilities, how to set goals and plan their future. Occasionally, even, they need a shoulder to lean on when an important relationship goes away.
And this is by far a short list of all the individual things that a child requires of you from the moment they are born until it’s time to begin their life on their own.
For nearly two decades or more in some cases, your mind as a parent has been conditioned constantly to be taking care of them in one way or another; thinking ahead when they fail to do so and helping them plan what to do next, all with the intent of making their life as good as, or better than, your own.
And then comes the dichotomy. After all the time caring for their every need, suddenly one day they look up at you, and they’re ready to make their own choices and decisions. You may or may not agree with the choices they make, but nevertheless, they’re grown now, and they’re entitled to make those choices for themselves. As a parent, you can only hope you’ve provided the right guidance to help them make the best choices for their lives, but it’s not entirely up to you. Why, even the finest parents can have children who venture off on paths that are less than the best for them; it’s regrettable, but it happens sometimes. If you’re fortunate though, they make good choices, sometimes even ones you’ve never even considered, and turn out to be far greater than you ever imagined. That’s when you know you’ve been truly blessed.
Regardless of the direction they choose, one thing is for sure: letting go is hard to do. Although, technically, “Once a parent, always a parent,” your role at this point in their lives diminishes significantly from what it’s been for so very long. On their end, they’re excited about their newfound freedom and the inspiring things that lie ahead for them. From your perspective, however, it’s a different feeling altogether. Transitioning from a parent who is needed for practically everything, to a role that resembles more that of a very close friend, is one that catches you by surprise.
Even though I’m not completely at this point yet in my life, I can empathize with those parents that have been in, or are currently going through, this process in their own. I imagine the upside of this new relationship is that even though you’ll never stop worrying and caring about them, the day-to-day responsibilities of watching over them are no longer a stress on you. You learn to see them differently now, with a more grown-up perspective; and eventually, they learn to do the same with you. And if you’re even more fortunate, you get to have grandchildren and watch your children go through their own parenting cycle, while you get to sit on the sidelines and simply do all the fun stuff with them. Probably not such a bad deal after all!