All my life I wanted to be a mom. I played with dolls until it was no longer socially acceptable, and I started my baby name list when I was seven. Oh sure, I went to college and planned for a career, but in the back of my mind I always thought that my main act, my pièce de résistance, would be motherhood. I’ve had a very satisfying work life, but my main focus has been parenting. It is more acceptable to say this now, but 10 to15 years ago, this view was seen by some as a betrayal to the woman’s rights movement, a slight to the hard fight other women had fought to get us the right to dream of big careers and a life beyond kids. But I digress.

What They Don’t Tell You

Most of us have had to work harder than others to become a mom. During all the struggle of getting our kiddos, they never tell you that after about a year, parenthood is all about letting them go. This is true for all types of parenting, including adoptive parenting and parenting kids that came our way through infertility treatment.

At first, the releasing is so small that you don’t even feel it—in fact, you probably welcome it. No more diapers, no more cutting grapes into quarters, no more late afternoon melt downs because he gave up his nap. It is often freeing, opening up the possibility of more adventuresome vacations or a kid-free week while she’s at camp or grandma’s. But along with this freedom is the creeping realization that this motherhood business won’t last forever. The first day I dropped my youngest off at kindergarten I sat in the parking lot and cried. My tears were partly because I would never again be the mother of a preschooler and partly because I so wanted to believe that I was above this cliché. Call this the anti-helicopter parent.

The Job of Parenting

I know, I know, we want our kids to grow up. And I do, truly I do. Letting go is our job as a parent, and I certainly don’t want the alternative of a 30 year old still living at home mooching off old mom and dad. To succeed as a parent we have to launch our kids. For some kids the launch will be like the space shuttle and others like a Cessna, but fly they must. And I can’t be and don’t want to be the baggage stowed in the cargo hold.

Today I Hurt

But today, I get to feel the pain of letting go. Tomorrow, I’ll get over it and even celebrate it, but today I can feel sad. Yesterday, my eldest left for a solo two-week trek to Thailand and Cambodia. My emotions are all over the place. I’m thrilled for her, I’m scared for her, I’m scared for me—how in the world will I not worry myself sick for these next two weeks.

For the record, I want to get credit for encouraging her to live abroad for this year. See how good I am at this letting go business? I support her taking advantage of all the opportunities this year will present. I would have preferred if this trip opportunity had included a traveling companion, but I listened and supported, while secretly hoping the trip would fall through. No such luck.

And while I’m getting credit, I also want to mention that I only brought up the rebels taking over the Bangkok airport oh, maybe three or four or fifteen times. I also don’t think I should lose credit for my repeat lecture on date rape and drugging drinks in bars. After all, I didn’t harp, and she may have forgotten this valuable information since the last time I lectured—I mean shared.

All my previous bemoaning about this generation being addicted to their cell phones and the internet is coming back to haunt me. I was actually incredulous that her cell phone wouldn’t work, and regretfully understood that she didn’t want to spend all her time looking for an internet café so she could email me daily. OK, maybe I still have a bit to learn about letting go.

Defining Success in Parenting

Now here’s the funny part: we raised her to do just this. We want the world to be her oyster, we want her to boldly go forth and see and do and experience. But then she turned around and did it, and I’m sitting on the sidelines feeling sad and scared, which, darnit, is exactly where I should be, and probably what I should be feeling. Common wisdom tells you that when your kids are ready to launch you will be ready. This confirms what I’ve always known: I’m neither common nor wise.

Image credit: Shenghung Lin