Date: March 4, 2021
By: Hilary V.
“Holding on is believing that there is only a past. Letting go is knowing there is a future.”
-Daphne Rose Kingma
I have found myself teetering on the edge of my past and future ever since my first son graduated in 2013. I am balancing one foot in the past in hopes that the arrival of the future slows down. But as each of my children have departed for their lives beyond childhood, I have been slow to learn that planting my feet firmly in the present has allowed me to embrace the “now," the stage of letting go.
Having five kids who have graduated starting in 2013, 2015, 2017, 2019, and soon in June 2021 makes for a long stage of letting go. My husband and I are enjoying our youngest daughter at home, but this does not diminish the stages that each child-turned-adult brings to the adventure, or the void that remains in a mother’s heart when they are no longer all under the same roof. I also don’t want to diminish the other stages of “letting go” that occur when you’re in the midst of raising children. Things such as: breastfeeding to solid foods, diapers to toilet, crib to bed, baby to toddler, toddler to school age, girl to womanhood, and boy to manhood…just to name a few. These events are what set the stage for a mother transitioning from the “leading role” to “supporting role” once your child enters adulthood and is ready to begin life outside of their childhood home.
You would think after having four children grow and leave the home that one is prepared for the flood of emotions that come with it. However, as each of my children have departed and taken their unique personality that has fit into the jigsaw puzzle called family, it is surprisingly a new adjustment. You are not only living through the motions of the change in physical space at home, but also the shifts in mood and energy for the ones who remain as they adjust to their absence. As are all things in life, with the passing of time, you do settle into the new pace and stage of life.
Confession time, as their mother I go through a list of past and future reflections. The past being: did I spend enough time with each child and nurture them? Did I pass on the faith in a concrete way that allows them to make it their own? Did I give them enough freedom to make mistakes and learn from them? The future reflections being: will they surround themselves with good people? Will they make wise choices that help them to thrive not just survive? Will they seek to know God and their faith in a personal way? Will they choose a partner who helps them to become the best version of themselves? As I pointed out earlier, I have found the transition more fruitful when I don’t spend much time in the past nor the future, but rather remain in the present moment. When I allow myself to experience what is happening “now," I recognize and accept that it is okay to feel all the emotions that arise with the departure of my children. A part of me felt that if I focus on the past and the future then maybe this present moment won’t hurt so much. A child leaving home is not meant to be a small moment in a mother’s life. I don’t believe we are meant to skim by it. I believe we are called to be “all in” similar to when they were breastfeeding, toilet training, going to school for the first time, going for their first sleepover, and getting their driver’s license. “I see the past so clearly; because we were just there, but I could also feel shifting beneath our feet as we changed and grew…This was us changed and changing, shifting, moving and growing”1
As a faith-filled Catholic mother I have never done parenting on my own. I do have a husband of 30 years who is “all in” as a spouse and father. We have tackled parenting with a united front and have always invited God into the very centre. Beyond my husband, I have other “spiritual helpers” that have made my journey through motherhood and the stages of letting go more purposeful. There are many but I will name two.
I begin with Our Blessed Mother. She is a wonderful example of walking through the stages of “letting go” with grace. When reflecting on the Joyful Mysteries of the most Holy Rosary, our Blessed Mother fully encompasses the Incarnation solely through the constant art of surrendering Him. From the moment the Angel Gabriel came to Mary in the Annunciation, Mary’s Fiat was the beginning of her surrender. When you continue on in the Joyful Mysteries with the Visitation and then to finding Jesus in the temple, you will experience Mary’s love and her understanding that Jesus is not hers to own or possess but rather, her little baby is meant for a greater purpose outside of her role as His mother.
The awakening that I have come to, through Mary’s example and walk through motherhood, is that my children are given to my husband and myself as a gift. We do not possess them. We have been asked by God to raise them up and to give them a sure foundation in the truth. Like Mary I have to surrender them back to God while nurturing them to a place where they can fully live life outside of the safety of our home.
Another spiritual leader that I have enjoyed bringing into motherhood and specifically the stage of “letting go” is St. Ignatius of Loyola. He has taught me that paying attention to the movements of my heart can help me dive into what the process of detachment is for me. Each of us has a process that is unique to our personality, history, and situation. St. Ignatius has also taught me to see God in all things. In the joys, struggles, and fears. In motherhood, St. Ignatius has taught me to see God in all stages of life. So, in those several moments of letting go that have occurred, God is right there with me. What I feel in every experience with my child, he feels 100 fold. This understanding of God through the teachings of St. Ignatius has brought me much comfort and understanding. It has helped me to be courageous in times where I am weak and afraid to let go. A bible passage that I often refer to during these times is Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
I have discovered throughout these many years of “letting go” and the havoc it has played on my emotions that the remedy is GRATITUDE. I am able to look back on 26 years of parenting and feel grateful for the journey, both the ups and downs; the joys and heartache that come with this important vocation. I find tremendous gratitude when I remain in the present moment and gaze upon the beautiful human beings my children have become. Their lives are not perfect. They have each experienced suffering through their unique crosses, but they remain in the fight. Some days limping along and other days soaring. Just as I do as a mother…some days limping other days soaring.
At the end of the day the art of letting go begins with our “yes," just Like Mother Mary’s Fiat. The path to letting go is truly a gift to receive for the mother and a gift to be given to her children.
"To sum up, dear friend of mine, unclench your fists and let everything fly out of your hands. Clean yourself up nicely and stay faithful to your Creator.”
- Thomas a Kempis, The imitation of Christ.
1.”Giving Thanks and letting Go: Reflections on the gift of Motherhood” (Cathy G. Knipper Article, Catholic Stand) March 31, 2020