Letting go — or losing control?

my son with swim teammates hanging on the lane line
My son in front hanging on the lane line with his teammates.

Six years ago, I debated the question if there was a difference between letting go and losing control. If you’re a parent of kids who have flown the nest — or are getting ready to — you’ll recognize these feelings.

Take a look at what I wrote about this. At that point in my parenting life, I wanted what was best for my children and felt like I had all the answers. However, looking back, my kids needed to make their own decisions and find their own paths. It was time for me to let go.

As an empty nester, there are times I wish I had more control over my kids’ lives. I don’t have much anymore. I remember the days when they’d actually do what I asked. They believed the same way I did about everything including religion, politics and entertainment.

They watched the movies I’d check out from the library, and because I picked them out, they loved them. One day my son asked, “Mom, do they make movies without singing and dancing?” Yikes. I guess I was a little too into musicals. I am happy, though, that my kids got to experience that slice of Americana. Many millennials never learned the words to “On the Atchison, Topeka, and the Santa Fe” from “The Harvey Girls.” My aunt was surprised when my son invited her to watch a movie. She was expecting Disney or Barney. She was thrilled to watch “Meet Me in St. Louis” with him.

brother and sister at the beach
Back when I got to pick out the movies.

Somewhere along the line of those perfect days, I lost control. Today, my kids have their own opinions about religion, politics, and life in general that are decidedly different than mine.

For example, I wanted to tell my son to pursue a career in business or law. My husband and I sent him job openings in the Bay area where he lives. (FYI, We don’t want him to live that far away. We don’t like how expensive it is. It’s all wrong to us.)

Did he listen? He’s polite. Every time I texted a job opening, he thanked me and said, “that’s a good idea.” Then he did what he wanted. He applied to teach at one of the worst school districts where the standardized test scores were 2 in Math and 7 in English. (Those numbers are not out of 10, but out of 100.) He decided to teach — instead of what I want him to do — and in one of the most difficult situations possible. He thought it would be a challenge.

My son giving the valedictorian speech.
High school graduation speech.

I couldn’t stop him. He had to live his own life and learn his own life lessons. There’s absolutely nothing I could say about it. I needed to learn to let go since I had lost control anyway. I am proud that he’s an adult with his own dreams and goals.

kids andmoms at the beach.
The gang in Laguna Beach. Me and my good friend Elaine with our kids and a few more we took along with us for a beach day.

UPDATE: The teaching job proved to be more difficult than my son could handle. Issues included students who had no support in learning from their families. A counselor entered my son’s classroom and told the students they didn’t have to listen to my son. The final straw was when he reported a student for truancy and he learned the student was deported. He felt beyond guilty.

He’s been working for a tech startup for several years. He’s able to use his Math and English skills. The company has a good work/life balance and he likes the people he works with.

So much for mom and dad telling him what to do and what path to take. On the bright side, I’ve learned to step back and let my kids be who they are.

When have you questioned if you’re losing control or letting go? What difference do you see between the two? What situations in your own life made you realize it was time to let go?

21 thoughts on “Letting go — or losing control?

  1. To answer your question regarding kids: never. When they turned the age of emancipation, the only question I had was “what color suitcases should I buy?” I was not being mean, just confident that they had been raised to be independent, strong, and knew the difference between right and wrong. Shortly after leaving, I made the bridge between parent and best friend, because they would ALWAYS have me as a parent, but they also needed a best friend. They are now 40+ and are doing very well (both of them). but not afraid to ask for advice nor help. Our relationship is very healthy, and we go back and forth across the “bridge” when it is needed.

  2. Thanks Good that all my kids are beyond the age where they would need me to decide for them. If they ask, I’ll gladly share my thoughts but if not then it’s better not to.

  3. Because nothing in our lives is within our control, reminding ourselves on a daily basis of this fact makes it much easier to let go of attachments. The more we can let go of our attachment to people and have faith that they will be reunited with us in some way, the more they will find their way back to us. ❤️

  4. It’s hard to imagine still feeling a sense of control when it involves my adult kids. Control is something a parent does with a small child who is unable to make their own decisions. As they grow and learn, not just from their parents, it’s time to turn decision making over to them, sometimes even when you know they are going to make a mistake. We are always parents, but our roles change to an observational status, and the respect owed to them to live their lives without interference.

  5. I just wrote about our youngest son getting ready to leave home for college. His older bro and sister already have. My natural inclination is to reach for control. Ha, ha, no surprise there. For me though, the coolest experiences have been when I’ve let go and my kids come back to talk about a decision they’ve made or, even better, when they have a plan and they just want to get my advice. It’s the best feeling. It’s been neat so far with (especially with my older two kids in their mid 20s to see where our relationship goes. I’m still dad, but there’s a closeness, a respect, that I never expected. Thanks for sharing! So much to learn yet about parenthood! Ha, ha.

    • Thanks for the thoughtful comment. I know my husband loves it when our son calls him up to brag about his job or ask for his advice. There is a respect there that wasn’t around in our son’s teenage years!

  6. The simplest thing for me to remember was/is that is their life and they have to be happy living it. It’s what I was able to do as my folks did not push any agenda on me. Will I offer advice if asked, of course. Will I sometimes offer advice if NOT asked? Definitely!

    • I’ve learned during the past few years to not offer advice unless asked. My daughter hammers that. Often she calls to vent, she doesn’t want us to problem solve.

  7. Oh the illusion of control…how I miss you! Kids have a way of growing up, and we don’t really have a choice in the matter…thank God! With that said, I think parents always have the prerogative to speak their mind…there are consequences to that, though. With that said, my kids speak their mind as well! Consequences for that, too! We’re all grown ups now!

    As I tell my daughter, “If I hadn’t heard from you in a few days, I’m going to check in on you just so I can hear your voice and know you’re okay.” She rolls her eyes, but she puts up with me. She lives alone and so…I sometimes worry. Okay, I probably worry way too much…but she’s shared things with me that have given me gray hair…so there’s that. I listen and grow gray. She has to put up with my worry. I’m sure it’s very dysfunctional for most…but it works for us. Ha!

    I’m glad your son was able to spend some of his time giving back by teaching. I’m sorry that he encountered the frustrations he did. I can’t even imagine!

    Glad you shared this, E.A.

  8. The older I get, the less I realize I can control. Today: Trip to Seminole Casino and the only thing controlled was the monies spend, such is the path of luck meeting opportunity. Sometimes the best is kismet, meant to be. Your children will find their path, through trials and effort. Although some of us give our parents more to worry about. My husband has his children very early (I think he was 20 years old). I feel like they grew up with him and now I see their relationships clearly. We did have a fun morning and lunch out. The best bargain was an undiscovered bookstore.

  9. Losing control is when you are frustrated and angry and sad and feel like you’re spiraling. Letting go is when you’re rational, analytic and realizing you need to move forward. Great post.

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