Parenting: The Long Goodbye

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"Parenting: the long goodbye" by Lara Patangan (CatholicMom.com)

Copyright 2019 Lara Patangan. All rights reserved.

I am in the “letting go” years of motherhood. I know Alzheimer’s disease is considered the “long goodbye,” but having teenagers feels as much so. Except instead of forgetting precious memories, I am flooded with them: story times at the library, field trips to the zoo, class parties, countless baseball games, first dances, and ordinary moments that have aged into extraordinary memories.

It is often said of parenting that the days are long but the years are short. I would only add that the years get successively faster, like a racing heart sprinting toward the finish line. The teenage years are propelled with a momentum that has little to do with parenting but is filled with our children’s pursuits. We no longer set the pace of their days. Instead, we race to keep up or merely watch their projection as they shoot off like a ball in a pinball machine: hither and yonder, to and fro, until they finally land in their beds at night. Still. Safe. Ours.

But the truth is they were never ours to keep. They were trusted to us by an ever-generous God for what suddenly feels like too little time. Somehow, He put us together knowing that we will each learn from the other. We are shown we could love more than seemed physically possible and that we can stretch beyond what we once considered strong to a surprisingly soft place of resilience. I can’t think of anything else that compares to the ways it has broken me, built me anew, and taught lessons that only love could teach.

As these years wane, I marvel at the people my children have become. I’m in awe that I had any part in it. My inclination is to hold tight to the time remaining, but nature and nurture aren’t great friends during the teenage years and I know what my boys need is space, not smothering. I hold back despite wanting to hold on. Some days it isn’t so bad. There will be unexpected conversations, pockets of time that when measured by a clock are insignificant but have a quality and genuineness that is unconcerned with mortal notions of time. I vacillate between the relief of their growing independence and the revelry I sometimes feel in being needed for something as menial as making a peanut-butter sandwich and putting it in a brown paper bag. I have moments when I am so frustrated that I want to start packing their bags to send them off to college and other times that the thought of them going can stop my breath.

I know these years are preparing them to fly, and letting go is the only way they will have a chance at liftoff. But somehow the preparation feels like it’s more for me than them. It’s a loosening grip; a slow unravel; a series of lasts; a top in its final few spins of what has been a fast, colorful, and wobbly whirlwind.

The paradox of parenting is that while our children may have never been ours to keep, the love we have for them is — always and forever. It was there before that first hello and will be there after the long goodbye ends. It’s that love that will launch their flight and love that I pray will always lead them home.


Copyright 2019 Lara Patangan

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About Author

Lara Patangan is a freelance writer and mother of two boys. She is a cat-lover and a catastrophic cook. Her work has been featured in newspapers, magazines, and blogs. She is currently working on publishing her first book about her experiences doing works of mercy. Please visit MercyMatters.net to join this community that believes in the power of mercy to change the world.

2 Comments

  1. Thank you Lara for a beautifully and perfectly captured feeling I’ve had for these last several years raising teenagers. It’s a joy of celebrating their independence, self-confidence and good choices mixed bittersweetly with the sadness of missing the snuggles and dependence on their parents. Good luck with your transition time and always be grateful God gave us these blessings to love!

    • Thank you, Colleen! And you are right, gratitude always that we even had this chance to learn that part of love is letting go. At my son’s eighth grade graduation last month I was weepy and an older and wiser mom came up and told me that if we don’t let them go we don’t get grandchildren! It made me laugh and I thought, “she’s right!” May God bless you and your family whatever stage you find yourselves in 🙂

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