It’s Complicated: Saying Goodbye to Your Teen
I know there are moms who have been counting the days until their teenage daughter moves out of the house and goes to college. And may even feel giddy with excitement till they can push their daughters out the door.
But actually it is rare that moms won’t miss their daughters at all. Often it is a mixed bag. There are things you will strongly miss and there are things that you definitely will not miss.
If you have a healthy connection with your daughter it’s not going to be easy to let go. Saying goodbye is going to stir up the fiercest collection of conflicting emotions. It can feel like an unruly committee meeting that has spun out of control. This committee meeting is composed of all the feelings and thoughts that are whirling inside your head. In other words, saying goodbye to your teenage daughter is complicated.
When my daughter moved to Austin it was a hard transition. The month before we had spent a lot of time together. I loved every moment of it. One night we watched an old movie that she loved when she was a child. We watched it in her bed and had our bowl of popcorn. Both of us knew that she was revisiting the safety of her childhood and getting ready to take her bold next step into adulthood.
The day she left for Austin I had two major meltdowns. It felt like a death. It felt like my heart was breaking. It felt wrong.
And then it felt right. It was the right move for my daughter and I knew it would be good for me. I was excited for her and I was excited for me. I was sad and I was relieved. I thought, “She is only 3 hours away. It’s not the end of our relationship. It’s not like I’m never going to see her or that our relationship is over.” (The unruly committee was in session.)
I told one of my dearest friends, Sue, that when I said goodbye to my daughter I felt like a “wimp.” She replied, “Separation is hard. Imagine what it would mean if you didn’t miss her at all.” She’s right. My daughter is one of my most favorite human beings on this planet. Of course, I’d miss her. I knew Sue could relate. Her teenage daughter was across the country and it been a while since she had seen her daughter. Sue told me, “I miss her to my bones.” I can so relate.
3 Reasons Why Saying Goodbye To Your Daughter Is Complicated.
1. It’s Complicated because there are things you’ll miss and things you definitely won’t miss.
Over the past 25 years, I’ve talked to a lot of moms after they said goodbye to their daughters. I asked them what they would miss and what they would not miss. Here are some of the things they told me.
What are you going to miss?
- I’ll miss the simple things like spontaneous trips to Whole Foods or going out to lunch.
- The excitement, energy, and laughter my daughter brings into my home.
- My daily companion who distracts me from working to hard.
- Watching movies together and sharing a bowl of popcorn.
- Hanging out in the kitchen and catching up on the day.
- Getting to know her friends and what’s going on in her life on a daily basis
- Those little moments each day where we check-in and I can see she is okay.
- Witnessing my daughter grow and become an amazing human being.
My friend Jen told me recently, “I will miss my daughter so much, it’s hard to think she won’t be in her room anymore studying, playing music or laughing with her friends. As I write this, I have tears of sadness but also tears of gratitude because I know she’ll be alright and we will always be close.”
What are you NOT going to miss?
- Having to stay up and make sure she comes home on time.
- Worrying that when she goes out that she is where she’s supposed to be. That she is safe and not doing anything that puts her or others at risk.
- Her messy room, dirty dishes in the kitchen, and towels on the floor.
- Having her constantly pushing me to let her do something I’m not comfortable with.
- Her mood swings: attacking me for no reason or watching her get really upset.
- Feeling like I’m constantly interrupted and I have no time.
- Monitoring her to get her work done.
- Making sure she gets up on time.
- Her entitlement and treating me like I’m her personal assistant.
- Investing so much of my energy in her that there is not enough for me.
2. It’s Complicated because you are saying good-bye to a work-in-progress.
By the time your daughter is a senior you can be in awe of all her accomplishments and it looks like your daughter is stepping into adulthood. But wait, then she takes a few steps backward–your daughter does something that makes you question everything.
A few years ago I remember a mom said to me, “How can I let my daughter go to college if she is not responsible enough to clean her room.” Now you may think that’s ridiculous, but how would you complete this sentence.
How can I let my daughter go to college if she is not responsible enough to ___________________________________ .
Most moms see areas of irresponsibility or immaturity in their graduate’s life which makes it difficult to let them go. A few years ago a mom who had complete confidence in her “good” daughter going off to college, caught her smoking weed a few weeks before she was supposed to leave. This really stressed out the mom and made it doubly hard for her to let her daughter leave for college.
The truth is that your daughter is leaving home as a work-in-progress. She is not an adult. This goes back to brain science. A teenage brain is not fully developed until age 25. This means, if your daughter leaves home before she is 25, she is still hard-wired to make mistakes with her undeveloped prefrontal cortex.
This blend of maturity and immaturity stirs up a plethora of feelings in moms. We are sending our beloved daughters into a scary world knowing they are still wobbly in making sound decisions. And moms, because we are so connected to our daughters, we know exactly where our teens are going to be vulnerable and prone to stumble.
And yet…we survived these years and turned into responsible adults. I know I did some crazy things during my freshman year and lived to tell about it. I think God has an abundance of angels that are standing by, and getting ready for this next crop of freshmen.
3. It’s Complicated because it’s unknown territory.
Another reason it’s complicated it that it’s unknown territory. What will my relationship with my daughter be like in college? Will she make it? What will my life be like without my daughter? How will this affect my family? What’s next for me?
When there is a big change like saying goodbye, at first, all you can think of is the hard story. Because of how our brains are wired we naturally think of all the negative scenarios and what could go wrong.
The truth is that when you get to the other side of the hard story, you’ll find that this is not the end, it’s just the beginning for you and your daughter. This is not only a great opportunity for your daughter; it is a great opportunity for you.
Your daughter is creating new experiences, meeting new people, developing her mind, learning new skills, and taking steps to accomplish her dreams.
And you can too. If you feel resentful or sad about the life you have now, you need to create new experiences and live your own adventure.
Your relationship with your daughter is not over, it’s a lifelong journey.
Congratulations! You have navigated through some of the most difficult terrain of that journey–the teenage years. Now begins a new adventure for you and your daughter. She still needs you; it’s just going to look different. Your relationship will change, but it will keep growing and expanding as you continue to witness your daughter blossom into adulthood.
Jen summed it up well, “As my daughter goes off to college soon… it’s a new chapter in life for both of us. It’s exciting to me that I will have more freedom too… so much more to do. And I look forward to having a different type of relationship with my daughter. I have a feeling it will be even deeper.”