Clinging Mom Afraid to Release College-Age Child

Can you help me "let go" of my son who is heading off to college? I'm worried about the challenges he'll be facing on his own – challenges to his faith and his moral values, not to mention the practical challenges of living on his own for the first time. We've always been a close-knit family, and sometimes the thought of seeing him go is almost too much for me. In fact, I've been lying awake nights thinking about this. How can I deal with this transition?

We understand your feelings, and we find your love for your son touching and inspiring. At the same time – and please understand that no disrespect is intended – we think it’s time you opened your eyes and realized that he’s growing up. Leaving the nest, going off to college, establishing a measure of independence, learning to deal with the demands of daily life – these are all normal rites of passage for a young adult. Instead of feeling anxious, you should be pleased and proud that he’s launching out into a larger world.

Not that we can’t relate to your concerns. It’s true that there are many moral snares and spiritual pitfalls awaiting young people on today’s college campuses.

Still, your son has reached a place in his personal development where he must assume increasing responsibility for his own actions. It’s up to him to decide how he’s going to respond to the challenges he’ll face at college. This is the moment for which you’ve been preparing him ever since you brought him home from the hospital. At some point he has to pass beyond your control and discover what it means to be accountable to God alone. Your role is to support him in prayer, asking the Lord to bring to his mind the spiritual truths and moral principles you’ve instilled into him over the years.

You may find it comforting to know that you’re not the only parent who has ever struggled with this transition. Many moms and dads have difficulty “letting go” or allowing a child to separate from the parent-child relationship and move ahead into full adulthood. Be that as it may, you’re going to have to make the break at some point or another. You can take an important step in the right direction by examining your motives honestly. Exactly what is it that’s causing you to hang on to your son’s childhood so tightly?

We, of course, can’t answer that question for you. But we can tell you that this is often a huge issue in families where there has been a history of marital conflict. The empty nest years can seem especially threatening to a woman who feels distanced from her husband and who, as a result, has been pouring all of her emotional energy into her children. This is just one of several scenarios that can account for a parent’s unwillingness to release his or her child. You will have a much better sense of the relevant dynamics involved in your own case.

We’re also concerned about your reference to “lying awake nights thinking about this.” Have you considered the possibility that your worrying may be getting out of hand? Healthy anxiety is one thing. It’s designed to help us cope with the challenges of life and to perform at a higher level. Anxiety disorder, however, is an entirely different matter. It raises its head when normal anxiety grows to the point where it does the opposite of what it’s intended to do. Instead of helping you cope, it actually prevents you from functioning and dramatically disrupts your daily life. If you think you might be suffering from a disorder of this kind, we’d highly recommend that you seek out the assistance of a professional counselor.

If this course of action is something you’d like to pursue, feel free to contact Focus on the Family’s Counseling department for a list of qualified Christian therapists practicing in your area. Our counselors would be more than happy to discuss your fears and concerns with you over the phone.


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