“Life is a balance between holding on and letting go.” ~ Rumi
I am experiencing the pains of childbirth. There’s nausea and sleepless nights, angst and expectation, worry and wonder. When I was here seventeen years ago, I looked forward to holding the baby I was carrying. Now, I anticipate letting him go. My son, Seth, is a senior in high school, and soon he will be moving out and moving on. I will be giving birth to him once again, and it hurts.
Seth, my firstborn, taught me to be a mother. During our early years together, I was on shaky ground. I felt unsure of my ability to do any of this well, and the thought of failing him wrecked me. However, as he grew, so did I. I have a memory of holding his little hands as he took his first tentative steps in our backyard. He clung to me for assurance that he wouldn’t fall. In time, he became confident that his legs would carry him, and I did the same.
I have watched Seth walk courageously and confidently through childhood and youth. Anyone who doesn’t think this journey requires both qualities has forgotten what middle school was like! Along the way Seth has changed schools, gained and lost friends, faced struggles, experienced heartbreak, and taken plenty of risks. Along the way I have changed, lost, struggled, and risked too. My journey seems intertwined with this beloved boy of mine.
During the past year I have had the pleasure of making several college visits with Seth. Sometimes his dad and brother go with us, and sometimes it is just the two of us. These are my favorite times. On the car rides to and from college campuses, our conversations meander like the highways we follow. We talk about school, work, friends, and faith. We talk about the future and what it might hold for him. As he dreams, I see his eyes light up with thoughts of the possibilities.
At each campus we visit, Seth imagines the life he might have there: dorm living, courses of study, jobs, and social dynamics. It’s all so exciting. As I watch him, my heart swells while at the same time breaking. I can dream along with him, but I know the day will come when his dad and I will take him to the college of his choice, unpack his things, bless him, and say goodbye.
I can’t go with him; I will have to let go.
It is not hard for me to trust that my son will be okay. I have watched Seth closely, and I realize that he is ready to fly. His wings are strong. Here is my confession: I am not sure that I will be okay. I expect to see Seth soar, yet I fear that I will see him soar away from me. And I am not sure that my wings are strong enough to carry me beyond these precious years of mothering him. I imagine an empty place in my nest, and it fills me with grief.
In the past this fear and grief would have terrified me. It would have shut me down, or I would have shut it down. In doing so, I denied my emotions and deadened my heart. Brené Brown explains, “We cannot selectively numb emotions; when we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions.” This is so true, yet there has been an even greater cost to this denial than a loss of heart. There’s been spiritual isolation and the sense that this journey is up to me.
On his blog, Become Good Soil, Morgan Snyder writes, “We’ve guarded our hearts from feeling either joy or grief robustly and therefore forfeited a deeper revelation of the Father’s heart and personality and who He wants to be for us and with us.” I no longer want to live this way. I long to let my guard down and trust that God will meet me, support me, and sustain me. I’m learning to trust that on the other side of the fear and grief is deep joy. I want the joy…even if it means I have to journey along the razor’s edge of fear and grief.
When Seth was first learning to walk, he would stand, facing away from me, and reach his arms high. He knew that my hands would be there for his little fingers to grasp tightly. We would move in step with one another, slowly and carefully inching forward. Eventually, Seth loosened his grip, dropped his arms, and toddled forward on his own. I watched his back as he moved away from me, and I filled with pride at his determination, accomplishment, and independence.
I am still standing there, watching my son. He stands tall, looks ahead, and moves forward confidently. It’s a beautiful sight. And, though he has let go, he knows I am there. Now, I release my grip. I test my own legs and realize that they, too, are strong and steady. I look toward the journey ahead…my journey. The Father beckons me to follow, so I take a faithful step forward and begin to move toward joy.
Susan Tucker spends her days mothering her two teenage sons, teaching middle school English, and savoring rare moments of quiet and solitude. She lives in Knoxville, Tennessee, with her sons and her husband of 21 years. Susan finds life in a beautiful story, an authentic conversation, worship music, and ultimately, in Jesus, the giver of all good gifts.
Love these words, especially the last three sentences. May you find moments of joy on the other side of fear and grief as well as in the midst of it all too.
“In the past this fear and grief would have terrified me. It would have shut me down, or I would have shut it down. In doing so, I denied my emotions and deadened my heart. Brené Brown explains, “We cannot selectively numb emotions; when we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions.” I no longer want to live this way. I’m learning to trust that on the other side of the fear and grief is deep joy. I want the joy…even if it means I have to journey along the razor’s edge of fear and grief.”
Thank you for your kind words, especially the wish for joy in the midst…yes, please!
This entry brings back a flood of memories to the time with my son that is similar to yours. They exit your home and return as your son, yet life is never the same as it was before he left. And, yes, we do continue to move forward only to discover joy is found there too. Blessing💗MJ
I hope the memories were a sweet gift to you today. Thank you for the hope you shared.
This is so true and so beautifully written, Susan! Thank you for putting into words so well what I feel. I wrote a number of your thoughts in my little journal of quotes, so that I can reread and remember what I am feeling but can’t say as well as you do. I am doing the Allender lay counseling track this year, and I am finding that reading the stories from Red Tent Living are very helpful in collating
thoughts about my life. I am glad that you are one of the writers. I hope you are doing well! Mookie
I’ve never considered myself “quotable;” thank you Mookie! I, too, find the essays on RTL so helpful in expressing my own heart and journey – I have a few that I return to over and over because they so articulate what I’ve been thinking, feeling, wondering… I am so excited for your time at the Allender Center…praying the first weekend went well and you are eager for the continued journey! Well done, o brave one!
Your description of letting go at this monumental time in both Seth and your life is spot on. It will hurt in ways you can’t understand yet. However, your heart will swell with pride and awe as he steps or leaps into this new phase of his life. It’s an awesome and powerful time for him and you. Be prepared for times when he will want to just retreat back into that cozy and safe nest you have created over his lifetime. It’s here he will come to refuel and recharge. That’s when you will feel his need for love, understanding and support from you the most. Don’t worry Mom, he will still need you, maybe just not as much.
I think the hardest time to accept as a mother, when they marry. It’s definitely a time when your relationship changes, especially with a son. But, you have awhile to think on that one.
Enjoy this magical time. Your role as parent will begin to decrease, and well it should. You’ve given him all he needs to move on. Though you move from parent, remember you will always be his mother.
Thank you Gloria for your response, especially the hope you offer for the way my relationship with my sons will transform, yet remain something so good and joyful.
Oh my goodness Susan! This was so good and I loved the photos. And I echo Mary Jane. I hardly wanted to read it because it was such a scary and sad time to let each one of my children go. Leaving home brings such transition and feelings of sorrow and joy and, of course, feelings of, “where did the years go?” Blessing to you during Seth’s senior year….
Thank you Becky. “Scary and sad”…yep, I feel it. I am also feeling such delight in watching Seth on his journey. So, it’s a truly mixed bag of emotions. Then to ponder that this delightfully sweet part of our “family time” is drawing to an end utterly wrecks me. Choosing to stay present and feel it all isn’t easy, as you well know, so the words and example of you and others who have launched are a great encouragement. Thank you.
Having both middle schoolers and a college student and graduate, I resonate with this piece. It does take courage to feel the fear and the grief and to let go of the hands. I think they let go first and I am left grasping the air for a time. There is beauty in pain in the process. Thank you for your words
Yes, you named it so well – the juxtaposition of beauty and pain in the process. I’m so delighted in his becoming and also so devastated by the changes that it will bring. That’s why it feels like a razor’s edge. Thank you for the hope that you offer as a mother experienced in this journey.
Susan your words touched a tender spot in my own heart, as I am also walking this painful road of letting go of my own children. I love the awareness and intentionality you have in experiencing this time of transition, in allowing yourself to grieve and wonder and remember and test your own shaky legs. Such a beautiful picture, thank you!
It’s such a consolation to know we are not alone on the journey, when it can feel like I am the only mom experiencing such a jumble of emotions. Praying for your heart as you walk this road and savor every step – both the sweet and the bittersweet.