Letting go. Father and son sunset.

Holding Close While Letting Go

It can be hard to let things run their natural course, especially when it means letting go of something very precious to you.

It is a very natural thing to move in and out of people’s lives. For workmates, teammates, or even friends, this can happen regularly, and while these transitions can be difficult, there are other circumstances that are way more intense. There are those in your life that are truly a part of you—literally and figuratively. You see a big part of them in you and you in them. You’ve given enough of yourself to them and to their growth and evolution that their lives and yours literally merge. At least for a time.

My son Peter is about to turn 21. He has turned into a very mature, thoughtful, and forward-thinking adult. In my view, he is becoming the kind of person the world needs right now. As part of his maturation, he is becoming his own person—independent, opinionated (in a good way), and liberated—as he should be. But part of this growth necessarily involves a decreasing need for me in his life. I’m fully aware of this, and I try to be intentional about it, helping him when I can and pulling back when I should. A big part of this process is a deliberate letting go, and this is both exciting and painful.

The thing I try to keep in mind is that I’m not letting him go, I’m creating a relationship with a different person—a new person. Like any relationship, this takes an investment of time and energy. I have to get to know the person he is, not the person I want him to be. I have to get to know his worldview, not the imprint of my worldview on him. I have to discover and consider his opinions—even those I question or disagree with. And most challengingly, I have to be open to the fact that my place in his life may diminish.

Of course, I won’t fade from his life without a fight. And by “fight,” I mean an expenditure of every effort to try to nurture and explore our new relationship. I won’t stop being a father and doing everything I can to support him and guide him, but that role will evolve into something more akin to a very close and supportive (and opinionated) friend.

Doing these two things at the same time—working very hard to stay close while giving him the space he needs to become a fully-fledged person—is challenging. The two goals may seem at odds with each other. There are a million cliches that describe this, but ultimately, these two elements are part of any strong bond between people. You work hard to know them well and support them, while giving them the space they need to be their own person.

This is especially difficult when a person is going through challenges, may be (in your view) making mistakes, and you feel (strongly) that you know the solution. This is pretty much the permanent condition of the parent of a young adult. I see his challenges, I see solutions that I’m sure will work, and I make strong recommendations (they are only recommendations at this point in the parent/child relationship). But everyone—whether they’re a young child, a young adult, or a “gracefully aging” man—has to make their own set of mistakes. You can get advice all the time, but for many situations, you generally have to learn the lessons for yourself.

So, I have to do my best to be the best parent I can be, and then stand back and watch what happens. I have to be comfortable in the knowledge that I’ve given him the strongest foundation possible and that I’ve done everything I can do to guide him. Then I have to let him live his life.

Times change, people change, and nothing will stay the same as it is. My influence will wane, but if I’m smart, a new kind of influence will burgeon. This is true relative to all my transitions. It’s important to not only trust these evolutions but embrace them and be intentional about them. Relationships that are precious to me have and will run their course, and some of them will end. But if I’m thoughtful and intentional, the important ones will continue to evolve in the best ways.

I can’t wait to see what happens.

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