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To the mama with a heavy heart—it gets better

woman looking away - child leaving for college

Dear Mama,

I know you’re thinking that sweet girl in braids can’t possibly be old enough to have left for college or you’re in disbelief that the little guy with a lisp who loved racing RC cars has moved away for freshman year. But yes, it’s true, and it tugs so heavily at your heart.

You don’t feel ready for them to start “adulting,” but hasn’t that been the goal all along? You hoped to raise a productive, functional human being who fends well for him or herself and serves others with compassion. You’ve done your job, now let them try it out on their own. You might not feel they are ready for this but, truly, they are.

I promise you, it gets better.

Oh, I know it isn’t easy. There’s an empty spot at the table and an even emptier spot in your heart. You miss them with that always present, fiercely protective mama’s love. Things aren’t the same in so many ways and, although you hope they’re doing just fine, there’s always a bit of a niggling doubt. “Is he making friends?” “Did she meet that deadline?”

You find yourself in their bedroom, looking over the childhood things left behind. You conjure up bittersweet memories of days gone by. How did time move so quickly? You are so incredibly proud of your child that your heart could burst, but you also miss them so much that you find tears in your eyes more often than you care to admit.

I promise you, it gets better.

You trust and you worry. You worry and you hope. Will they really be OK? I promise you, it gets better.

You search for the delicate balance between guidance and help versus interference and nagging. You bite your tongue more times than you can count because you know they’ve got this now.

New adventures await your child.

Phone calls and FaceTimes are frequent at first then space out a bit as the weeks go by. You hear about a project or paper due soon and new friends they’re going to coffee with, but it feels so different because you haven’t met those friends and weren’t asked to proofread the paper before it was turned in. You feel as if you’re missing out on big, important pieces of their life. Maybe you are, but that’s the way it’s supposed to be. They’re living their life and finding their way.

I promise you, it gets better.

But then, you visit for a weekend or they come home for a break. You see a change. It’s something remarkable. You witness the confidence and maturity you hoped was in them all along but hadn’t fully seen in action. You hear about incredible conversations with professors, opportunities and activities they have been bold enough to pursue and mini adventures taken with newfound friends.

It feels a bit better.

You get a call asking for advice. It could be about anything, but that phone call changes your perspective. You know your child trusts your opinion. You’re reminded that your child values what you have to say. You are so glad you stepped back and let them take the lead. They’re owning it. They’re doing it. They’re accomplishing big things in a brave way.

Summer break arrives and your child moves home. You love that they’re here. Maybe it’s not smooth sailing. Maybe old habits try to settle back in. It’s a learning curve to invite an adult child back into the family home, a living situation that both parties need to adjust to, requiring a huge level of respect on both sides. Maybe it’s smoother than you could have expected and all of you are simply thankful to be a part of each other’s daily lives again, if even for a while.

It feels a bit better.

You hear long term plans—adding a minor because of a communications course they loved, a semester abroad or a potential business plan after graduation. So many things.

Sophomore year arrives. You anticipate the emotions. Packed up and gone. New adventures await your child. For you, it’s still bittersweet. Perhaps there’s lingering sadness but, this time, it’s mostly for you, not out of worry for them. They have shown their abilities and you have no doubt they will continue thriving. You simply look forward to your next visit to campus or their next weekend home. Your child is doing it, making good decisions and finding their own path and you couldn’t be prouder.

Relax, mama, it’s better.