The heartbreak and gift of letting your daughter go
Dear Teenaged Daughter,
(written 10 years ago)
You have that far away look in your eyes now. Home isn’t the center of your universe.
I knew it would be this way. I just didn’t know how much it would hurt.
That open face in the photo I have of you as a toddler, so eager and trusting of me- where did she go? Where did you go?
Yet, I reflect… my own mother struggled with letting me go, and I swore I’d do better. I just didn’t know it would hurt so much.
Now, made-up eyes and a knockout figure, you look down your pretty nose and smirk at the rest of us as though we were clueless trolls. I mispronounce the name of your favorite clothing store and you shudder visibly in disgust.
Even your compliments have a patronizing air.
Yesterday, the universe threw me a small crumb.
Watching TV in my bed, you were exhausted, and, uncharacteristically, fell asleep in my arms. It reminded me of when you were a baby and I’d let my arm go numb rather than move it and disturb your sleep. I thought to myself, if this is the last time I hold you, I dare not move.
I know I can’t make it “all better” anymore- but maybe you could just rest awhile in mommy’s arms.
Without words, lectures, questions, opinions between us, I hear your strong heartbeat; your breathing slow, your warm body loses its resistance and melts into mine. Yes, just like when you were little before you could talk.
Before we let the words-opinions-lectures get in the way. Before you found me out to be the imperfect being that I am.
Once upon a time, I was the mommy who made it all better, not the mommy who gets it all wrong.
Your need conjured my milk, my love, my comfort…
You awakened my inner movie star. I had, at long last, been discovered. I sang you show tunes and we danced. You squealed with delight. When you were hungry, I nursed you. When you were tired or cranky, I rocked you to sleep. You took naps in my arms and full-time residence in my heart.
You accepted me in ways I couldn’t accept myself. Now you reject me in ways I don’t understand.
So, little girl, rest your pretty head on my shoulder. Take a break from your hurry to grow up, your hurry to leave. I think I’ll take a break from trying to improve, cajole, and advise you.
Remember the perfection we had without even trying- before you found out you would have to leave. Before I started worrying if you have everything you need.
This may not be the last time I hold you close, but I know there will be a last time.
The train is coming for you and you are packing your bags. You have a one-way ticket.
Each time you leave the house you never return completely. Home is becoming more of a layover, instead of the destination, it is for the rest of us.
I know you need to make a home inside of yourself, and your dreams the destination. This, I know, is the only way.
Still, it hurts.
So let me hold you and we can remember a time when I had everything you needed, our perfection restored. We can both pretend we don’t hear that whistle calling you, and my heart isn’t on that track.
(10 years later)-
More than a decade has passed and we are sharing a glass of wine in the home you now make with your husband, almost 3-year old daughter, and infant son.
We made it to the other side. Because you were brave enough to leave and I found the strength to let you go.
What looked only like a loss to me then… looks different to me now.
With a tender heart, I watch your 3-year old daughter load up her stroller with baby dolls and announce she is going to “work”.
Although I say nothing, I hear that haunting train whistle in the distance-the whistle that will call your precious daughter into her own life. I know what’s coming….who will leave, and whose heart will be on that track.
When the time comes, I hope to once again hold your hand and wipe your tears.
I have faith you will find the strength to set her free. Finding that strength inside of yourself, you will give her the gift you never wanted to give and it will break your heart.
Yet, you will see mothers who can’t let go; cripple their daughters, and steal their daughter’s chance of claiming a life they could call their own.
You will know the price those daughters pay is much too high.
So, without martyrdom, but with strength, you will do what needs to be done. And, you will be better for it. Fashioned from the pieces of your broken heart, you will acquire an expanded heart-one of compassion, wisdom, and grace.
• The compassion of a mother who knows her daughter’s dreams for herself is more important than the dreams she has for her daughter.
• The wisdom of a mother who sees the need her daughter has to do it her way, not as a rejection of her but a declaration of herself.
• The grace of a mother who knows a heart chained is a heart that is never truly hers, but the one she sets free can be hers forever.
Then and only then will you know this: Of the many gifts you will give your daughter, after loving her, the gift of letting her go is the hardest gift and the greatest gift you have to give her.
Do you suffer from the Good daughter syndrome? Take the quiz here, it’s free.