Isn’t timing interesting? This book came in the mail during wedding week at my house! I’d already read an advanced copy, but I took a break from the bustle of preparation to allow myself a little self care and re-read portions of The Joy of Letting Go*. I gotta tell you, I love how the author, Vicki Caruana, weaves wisdom with grace. There’s much to be learned in this 52 days of devotional reading, but there is also a healing balm from another mom who understands the angst—and the joy—of the empty nest process.
And it is a process.
I think before it happened to me I thought empty nest was an event. One day our home would be just hubby and me. But I’ve been in and out of the intense goodbyes since 2009 when my oldest graduated high school. Since then we’ve released each of our four children to their own lives, one—or sometimes several—at a time. It didn’t matter if the house was completely empty or if one or more children still called it home, it hurt–and was joyful–every time.
Our oldest son was the first to move out of state, back in 2011, to play competitive hockey on a youth league. Eventually he returned home, only to leave again for college. Recently he moved in for a few months during the transition between college and his March wedding.
There was great joy in helping him move into the beautiful apartment he and his bride now share, but even after all the times I’ve said goodbye to this particular child, I found myself weepy as we packed up the boxes. Inside was a jumbled mess of cheering him on, feeling pride for this huge step of maturity he was taking, being glad to get back to just hubby and me at home—and yet grieving once again.
When the wedding day actually arrived, peace and joy defined my emotions. My heart delights in my new daughter, and I celebrated! But even that was not without many tears, tears that are hard to define. Tears full of joy and pride. Tears of transition.
Empty nest is not an event.
It’s a process.
If you’re a mom with kids between the ages of 17 and 27, I bet you know what I’m talking about.
I hope the next few blog posts will encourage you, validate you, and sprinkle wisdom into your letting go process. I’m excited to share my friend Vicki with all of you. Vicki, a mom and college educator, has a lot to offer us.
Thank you, Vicki, for taking the time to write a powerful book that helps moms like me as we attempt to give our children wings cheerfully, while still wiping the tears. I’m looking forward to digging in a little deeper. Let’s jump right in!
In your book you say that letting go is a cumulative process. Can you expand on this?
I realized, especially now as I look back, that we’ve been letting go of our boys since the day they were born. The moment my husband, Chip, cut the umbilical cord we had begun the process of letting go. We should be grateful that it is a cumulative process and not a one-time event. Little by little is so much better than all at once. It’s like learning to ride a bicycle. All the skills needed for a child to independently and with confident balance to ride a bike are fostered well before that solo ride.
There’s a quote at the beginning of one of the daily readings that says, “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened” (Often attributed to Dr. Seuss). I find myself experiencing great joy and tears at the same time. Can you talk a little about natural emotion and how to keep processing the joy of letting go without denying the grief?
Experiencing great joy and tears at the same time is a uniquely human emotional response. Think “tears of joy” – those particular tears are a mix of happiness of your child’s accomplishment and sadness that they didn’t need you to accomplish it. It is not a paradox; it is a healthy, life-giving response. It is also part of living in the moment and not lamenting over the past or being anxious about the future. We can hold both joy and sadness in our hands with equal weight.
I loved this sentence in Day 3 of your book: “When deciding how and when to let go or at least loosen your grip, make sure your decision is based on what they can and can’t handle and not on what you can and can’t handle.” Why is this important?
From my experience as a mom and as an educator who works with families of college age students, I see this happen all the time. I remember when our first son was learning to drive. Although I was more available to be the one to practice driving with him, I just couldn’t. I get anxious enough when Chip is driving, let alone when a 16 year old is driving! I remember thinking that I needed to be sure that my own anxiety didn’t stain our son’s confidence to drive like the blueberry stain I couldn’t get off of a favorite blouse and can no longer wear. Some stains can be coaxed out of the fabric, but others are permanent.
You challenge readers with the following: “Where are you on the countdown to the big launch? Look for ways to green-light progress and not stop the clock.” Could you give my readers a few green-light suggestions?
Everyone’s “launch day” is a little different. Remember how we talked about this as a process and not an event, but there are some moments along the way that you can claim as green-light moments on this journey. Consider the different ages and stages of your kids right now as you read this. Whether they are four or fourteen or even twenty-four, there are times when you can say “yes” and let them do something by themselves when you’re natural instinct might be to say “no.” At four, they can walk to the curb and put the mail in the mailbox – by themselves (as you watch from the front door). At fourteen, they might be able to travel with someone other than their own family (maybe on a school or church sponsored trip). And at twenty-four, they can and should be making their own doctors’ appointments and filing their own tax returns (without your help or prodding – although I’m still struggling with NOT reminding our youngest about his tax return even at the writing of this post!). Look for the green-light moments. You may see them right now as either yellow (for caution) or red (for stop) moments; but unless they are against the rules, we can choose to change them from yellow or red to green. If we’re going to be life-giving in our letting go, we have to remember that “green means go.”
What are some things we might unwittingly do that stops the clock in our children’s progress of independence?
There are a couple of ways we might unwittingly stop the clock in our children’s progress toward independence. First we make them the focus of our happiness and well-being above all else. Although I believe that being Christopher and Charles’ mom is the most important and most satisfying job I’ve ever had, if the goal is to work yourself out of a job when raising children, then this can be a problem. No one likes being out of work – ask my husband, Chip. Admittedly, for many women being a mom is our identity and when that identity is threatened we move to protect it. Those moves can stop our children’s progress toward independence. Also, we might find ourselves letting go too soon. In some circumstances it is too early to let go. We may find ourselves pushing our kids forward into adulthood because either we’re proud of their early accomplishments and believe in the sooner is better attitude, or we get caught up in the excitement of what comes next and push them into situations for which they’re just not ready. You may have been a great swimmer and loved the water by the time you were ten, but that doesn’t mean your child is or will be. If we push them into the pool believing they’ll naturally learn to swim before they’re ready, then they might instead become afraid of the water and decide to remain on the shore for the foreseeable future.
Thank you, Vicki!
Friends, we’re just getting started with this topic. The interview with Vicky about the joy of letting our children go grew as I asked more and more probing questions. Next week, we’ll have several posts picking Vicki’s brain about releasing well. On Monday we talk specifically about releasing our children to the college journey.