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Letting Go: Notes From a Mother

Letting Go: Notes From a Mother

As a teenage daughter leaves home, one mother panics, takes stock and lets go.


We recently sent our firstborn daughter to Jerusalem for a year of post-high school Jewish studies.

After 18 years of heartfelt effort to instill in her the preciousness of being Jewish, it was time to cut the umbilical cord and send her off into the great unknown. Well, I guess you wouldn't call an all-girl, Orthodox school with a 10 p.m. curfew "the great unknown," but it was her first time being away from home and Jerusalem isn't exactly a hop, skip and a jump from Los Angeles if she gets the chickenpox or homesick.

I started getting weepy about six months prior to "Departure Day."

I started getting weepy about six months prior to "Departure Day." Every holiday it crossed my mind that next year we'd be minus one. Two weeks prior to D-day, I was in a state of high anxiety, trying to imagine life without her presence. A major chapter in my (and her) life was coming to a close. I knew that once a child leaves home the relationship changes forever. And I didn't feel quite ready to face the music.

"You better not cry at the airport. You'll totally embarrass me," she said.

"I'll try not to," I replied, "but don't count on it."

As the El Al plane taxied to the gate I could feel that mentally our daughter was already gone, anxious to have her freedom and independence ... anxious to experience the thrill of being on her own, of exploring new horizons ... anxious to get away from Mom and Dad. Her goodbye hug felt like she was already a million miles away.

Meanwhile, I was praying. "Please God, keep her safe from harm. Send her friends who will be there for her, teachers to inspire her and experiences that will nurture her connection with You. Help her to make all that we have taught her real to her. And don't let her do anything stupid."


Why is it so hard to let go?

I think as the time approaches for our children to leave, we start to panic. We take stock of what we fear we may not have given them that will be vital for their success in life. Did we build their self-confidence? Did we teach them how to make and keep fulfilling relationships? To cherish what it means to be Jewish? To understand the meaning of life? Did we have enough time for them? Express enough love? Time has run out and there's no going back.

Another contributing factor is that leaving home is preceded by that often turbulent period called adolescence. Door slamming, moodiness and the conviction that parents no longer know anything about life replace peaceful moments of cuddling little ones on the couch.

Teenagers can be very fragile human beings with raging hormones and a lot of insecurities about who they are and how they fit in. And parents can become very insecure about their parenting abilities as their children pull away and test the limits.

Parents can become very insecure about their parenting abilities as their children pull away and test the limits.

This tumultuous time can continue right up until D-day, making separation even more difficult and emotional. We want to part on a good note with closeness and a feeling of closure from those turbulent teens. We want to see that they came out on the other side mature and ready to face life's challenges. We want to be reassured that we did a good job.

She waved goodbye and walked confidently past the gate without looking back. I was so proud of her.

We drove back home in the early morning fog. Entering the house, I walked briskly past her room, got into bed and pulled the covers over my head. When I awoke, I knew the hardest part was over.

The anticipation of something difficult is usually worse then the reality. Thankfully I still have a house full of children to enjoy and appreciate.

And I also have a heightened sense of how quickly children grow and how precious every moment with them is.

May 13, 2000

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Visitor Comments: 6

(6) , April 7, 2002 12:00 AM

I happened upon this article at a very opportune time for me. Both of my sons are home from Israel for Pesach, but both are going back. My oldest (22) is making Aliyah, now, in the midst of all of the turmoil. I keep thinking, with an everpresent lump in my throat, that time has gone so quickly, and I do hope I have parented him in a way that will help him to succeed in this monumental change in his life. Time with our children is very precious.

(5) Anonymous, December 7, 2001 12:00 AM

A good movie on "letting-go"

If anyone of you have ever watched the movie "Anywhere But Here", starring Susan Sarandon and directed by Wayne Wang, you'll be able to get to the essence of this "letting-go" thing.

(4) Pauline Tague, May 18, 2001 12:00 AM

It is true love that allows us to let go and let our children have their own life.

You should be very proud of yourself. You have the strength to let go. Many parents wouldn't because of their own needs. There is only control we have over our kids when they are in our house and they are affected by the world out there. The worst you can do for a child is to instill your fear in them or try to keep them locked up with you. She will be her own human being and she will love you more for allowing her to be that and if she falls, you will be there if she wants you without any"I told you so's. You are with her and you can feel proud of yourself that you did the right thing. Take day by day and feel free to email me if you want. Pauline

(3) Anonymous, May 16, 2001 12:00 AM

From the Daughter's Side

Thanks for this glimpse in to what mothers are feeling. As a daughter hoping to leave for Yisrael soon I appriciate the wake up call to what my mother must be experiencing during this time.

(2) Anonymous, May 24, 2000 12:00 AM

A Moving Tribute By A Loving Mother To Her Daughter

What a beautiful article! The love and respect you have for your daughter is truly inspiring and put a lump in my throat. It also brought a tear to my eye as I realized, as the father of a two and a half year old little girl, how fast time really does fly and how I must work harder to treasure each precious moment. My mom, when asked by me what my brother and sisters and I were like as little kids, said, "It's hard to remember. After 40 plus years, it all seems like a dream; like another lifetime." Now, with your article, you have memorialized forever for you and your progeny what that "other lifetime" was like and what it was all about.

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