A Letter to Moms (and Dads) About to Say Goodbye to Your Baby
Dear Moms (and Dads),
So if you’re anything like me, your baby has recently graduated from high school. You’ve experienced many last times over the past nine or so months. I watched my baby walk off the football field as a remarkable receiver and line backer for the last time. He caught his last baseball game. His last up-to-bat. I took pictures of his last prom, he went to his last senior sunset, last day of classes and so many more. He had his firsts too… turning 18 and becoming an adult, his graduation, signing up to go to the Air Force and an upcoming departure to boot camp.
I did this the first time two years ago with his older brother when he also left for boot camp. (You can read about that here.) I know I’m not the first to ever do this again, and it won’t even be my last since there are two more still at home with us (thank goodness). With his brother’s departure and his first two years of being a “grown ass man” still fresh in my mind, this upcoming goodbye is looming. I wanted to share a few bits of knowledge I’ve gained over the last couple years that may relate to some similar emotions you might be experiencing. Mostly I’m hoping to take my own advice since I know what to expect this time around.
1. It will be harder than you can fathom.
I know… way to start off as negative as possible. When my oldest left, my husband was deployed and being a military spouse, I thought I was already practiced at goodbyes. I was wrong. There is a horrific emptiness when you have to say goodbye to your significant other for any period of time. Saying goodbye to your child is a whole other drop in the pit of your stomach. As I watched him walk into the recruiter’s office on his way to boot camp, I pictured my baby taking his first steps. He wasn’t an 18-year-old man at that moment making the decision to defend his country, he was going to kindergarten for the first time. Every memory of him growing up seemed to flash through my mind and I would be lying if I didn’t say it was hard.
2. The goodbye is totally necessary.
As much as I would love to stop time and keep all my kids at my most favorite ages, life doesn’t work that way. My younger kids were 7 and 9 when big brother left and it was equally difficult for them to say goodbye. My way of trying to console them was saying that mom would be crying way worse if he weren’t actually leaving. In other words, as much as I didn’t want him to leave, in order for him to move into this new stage of his life, he needed to.
I think when we have our little babies and spend every waking minute trying to keep them happy and cuddling them endlessly while gazing at their beautifully perfect faces, we think they will always need us. What I didn’t realize until he left was we parents only get them as ours for a very little time. Their childhood, although sometimes feels like eternity when they won’t sleep through the night or are having toddler tantrums, is actually such a short time that goes by faster than I could have expected.
3. You will be bursting with pride.
Whether you are sending your baby off to college, away to the military or into their own home, you will feel more pride for this adult-child that anyone with a half listening ear will want to hear. You’ll find yourself just waiting for lulls in conversations to bring up how proud you are. There is something exponentially special about raising a child from infant to adult while surviving those teenage years to see them become a self-sustaining, successful young adult. It is by far one of my greatest accomplishments.
4. You will hurt equally bad when they do.
I guess it was something I never spent time thinking about, but I thought when having kids that it would get easier as they got older. Don’t get me wrong… it is easier when they can take care of themselves (mostly) like make meals, drive themselves to practices or school and clean up their own messes (kinda). But the weight that hit my heart the minute he was born; that infinite ache of responsibility and the need to take care of all his hurts doesn’t go away… ever. That doesn’t mean that I didn’t sit back and let him handle his difficult times with less and less involvement as he got older, but it doesn’t mean that I didn’t want to.
Thank goodness I had my husband talk me off the edge multiple times when my son was dealing with his jeep breaking down, or housing issues from an ocean away. He helped me see that as much as I wanted to help, he needed to deal with it. That would make him a better man and problem solver. I don’t know how many times after getting off the phone with my son, hearing about his latest life stress and my husband asking me what I was doing as I slowly closed the website checking for flights.
5. You give up that parental control.
I get it that as a parent, you’ve spent countless hours helping this individual learn and hopefully make the right choices by exerting different amounts of control while teaching them to be independent. I know with my kids, I slowly released that throughout their teenage years in the hopes that they would be ready to take the reins by the time they were actually considered an adult. But the theory of the practice versus the actuality of following through with it can be difficult. I feel fortunate that my son is fairly forgiving of my countless, unasked for mom advice. I try not to tell him what to do, and I know I shouldn’t give unsolicited advice but sometimes my worry streak gets the best of me.
He’s thousands of miles from me and when he arrived, he did not know anyone. It was a duty station my husband had never been to so we didn’t have friends nearby he could call on, or I could call on in case of an emergency. He literally was completely on his own. He’s killing it! He’s doing more amazing than I could have asked and better than I would have done in his shoes. That doesn’t mean I don’t worry and my only outlet is to sometimes over-mom. He’s good-natured about it and just ignores what he doesn’t need to hear and for that I’m thankful. I’ve even hash tagged it #overmomming. Maybe I’ll go viral haha.
6. You need to keep your own life.
I think as parents, we tend to devote our entire lives to our children. It’s easy to make everything about them. What I have seen with my children is it benefits them to see mom have her own life. They are proud of my accomplishments, like when I finish a race and bring home a medal. They have encouraged me with my writing and help give me writing ideas. As much as we enjoy watching our kids go out in the world and try new things, they like to see their parents do the same. It’s been fun sharing my accomplishments and failures with all my children, but it has been a different experience with my adult child. He many times gives me better advice when I’m frustrated about something than I give him. He cheers me on from afar and he even helps me workout by helping hold me accountable. It is such a rewarding experience.
7. Don’t give too much.
So he left for boot camp and then went to his schooling. Still wanting to take care of him, I transferred some money into his account to pay for something. I can’t even remember what it was. Not long after, I get a phone call from him asking if I gave him money. I told him I did and his response was, “I’m a grown ass man, mom. You don’t need to give me money anymore.” It has become a running joke in the family, but in all seriousness, he’s right. I can offer to help him pay for something, which he usually turns me down, but I no longer have the right to just do it because I want to. I respect him for having that set of ideals. I try to send care packages, or online groceries once in a while to help while respecting his wants. His sense of independence is another one of those things I’m so proud of, I want to shout at the masses but I try to keep it under control.
8. Enjoy the little time you get with them.
When he left, I knew his visits would be limited. There are no more scheduled school breaks. When he does get to visit, I’m not the only one who is dying to see him. On the other hand, as much as he wants to see his family, he has many other people he also wants to see. His friends are equally important to him and I totally understand that and encourage it. I really just appreciate any time I get to have with him. There is nothing more fulfilling than having all my kids under the same roof. Those times are going to become even more fleeting with another departure, so I’ll always treasure those times.
I’m not the all-knowing person on this topic. Parents have been saying goodbye to their babies for as far back as history goes. I only find my advice helpful because I’m feeling all the feels right now. I’m with you when you hold back that sting of tears because something reminds you of the impending departure. I have the same pride in my heart for these up and coming youngsters taking on the world. My stomach also drops as the calendar days seem to fly away faster than ever. I would be happy to sit down for a glass of wine with you and toast the childhood days that are gone. Cheers to you raising this new adult.