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LucyGransnet (GNHQ) Thu 03-Mar-16 12:08:23

When is it time to let go?

Author Rachel Hore on how and when to let go of children or grandchildren, whilst remaining a part of their lives.

Rachel Hore

When is it time to let go?

Posted on: Thu 03-Mar-16 12:08:23


Lead photo

When is it time to stand back and let your children or grandchildren make their own way?

'If you love somebody, set them free', purrs the song.

There can be times in parents' relationships with their children when letting go is the best thing to do, but this can also be incredibly hard. Sometimes it's simply a healthy response to a natural situation.

My middle son was morose, tight-shut as a clam through his teenage years, and probably got fed up with me constantly asking if he was all right, or making decisions on his behalf about school trips, work experience, decoration of his bedroom, which he seemed unable or unwilling to make for himself. It was with a feeling of concern that we dropped him off at the university he'd picked at the last moment to study a subject we weren't sure he wanted to do. I had to fight off the dreadful sense that maybe we'd lost him forever.

Two years on the result has been quite the opposite. We've discovered him again. Sharing a house with a bunch of mates, choosing to study modules on his course that suit his interests, making his own decisions whilst living on a budget, all this has helped him to grow into a mature, responsible and charming young man, who I'm confident will competently plot his own way through life. We'd love him to come home more often, but it's a long journey to Norwich, and we get lots of emails and cheery messages from him and even the odd phone call. It had simply been time for him to fly the nest.

What else can a parent or grandparent do, other than wait and worry and hope?

More anxiety-inducing would be the example of a young person who is in real difficulties, but for one reason or another must not or will not continue to live with their family. Sometimes this might be because they cause chaos with illegal drug-use and anti-social behaviour. Sometimes it might be because a family member has caused them terrible pain.

These are much harder situations and it might be best to turn to professionals for support. Rules might have to be laid down in order to protect the rest of the family, and the young person may have to be loved and supported at a distance, possibly by grandparents.

Maybe worst of all is when the young person rejects their family entirely and all you can do is let them know that the door will always be open for their return.

This is unconditional love, which is a parent's duty to selflessly provide, but which thankfully often comes naturally, part of the toolkit, as it were.

What else can a parent or grandparent do, other than wait and worry and hope? And to make sure that the young person knows that they are loved and that they genuinely want what's best for them?

Rachel's new book The House on Bellevue Gardens is published by Simon & Schuster and is available from Amazon.

By Rachel Hore

Twitter: @Rachelhore

jinglbellsfrocks Thu 03-Mar-16 12:44:30


Never. Never. Never!

jinglbellsfrocks Thu 03-Mar-16 12:44:48

Sorry. blush

jinglbellsfrocks Thu 03-Mar-16 12:48:48

"My middle son was morose, tight-shut as a clam through his teenage years"

My younger grandson is just coming out of that phase, at age ten.

To keep them close I advocate pocket money. And a good supply of chocolate. And video games.

Willow500 Thu 03-Mar-16 13:10:57

I believe you have to let them go hard as it is but you never stop worrying. My eldest son never did anything out of the ordinary - went into the family business after finishing his apprenticeship, left home to live locally with his girlfriend, got married and had children. He eventually left town 8 years ago with his family and at 44 has done very well in his job - we miss them all but equally never really worried about him. My youngest son was totally the opposite and it was definitely a case of having to let him go when at 16 he left school, joined a band and moved 40 miles away to pursue his chosen career as a musician. There were many sleepless nights never really knowing where he was - mobile phones were not common and out of his reach and e-mail was really only just in it's infancy so we had to rely on odd phone calls or seeing the entire band turn up in a van in the middle of the night to raid the fridge and have a bed grin We had to put huge trust in him not to experiment with drugs, sex and drink - I believe we succeeded in two of those - I'm sure he did drink a fair amount until he realised the health issues. I know my husband and he had a very difficult relationship when he was younger as he simply did not conform to his father's 'norm' but equally he was extremely proud of him for living his dream. At 41 he's seen and done more things than we could ever imagine but now married with a young family and living on the other side of the world we still worry about him but I don't believe looking back I would have done anything different (even if I could have done!)

annodomini Thu 03-Mar-16 13:11:34

I have always advocated loosening the apron strings and letting them make their own decisions. In the case of my family, it has worked and we are just as close as ever. They have been and gone and been and gone again. There have been 'issues' and they have never lacked my support, but in the long run, they have decided their own course in life. Now, I would say that the tables are turning and I know I will never lose their support.

ninathenana Thu 03-Mar-16 14:57:22

I believe I loosened the apron strings when DD flew off to Germany a couple of months before her 19th birthday to join her squaddie husband of two months. She has always known her own mind, and I've never tried to stop her doing anything and only advise when asked.

Lona Thu 03-Mar-16 15:30:16

I agree with anno totally. I've always encouraged my children to 'go for it', mainly because I've never felt able to do just that myself.
They've also been and gone and now are getting going again with my support. I'm wearing out a bit now though and I know they will be there for me if and when I need them.

TriciaF Thu 03-Mar-16 15:47:49

I always encouraged all ours to be independent ( maybe because I had to learn to be independent at a very early age due to the war.) I think your attitude to this question depends on your own early experiences.
I'm concerned now that eldest daughter is taking her responsibilities too seriously towards us and her Dad (we've been divorced for nealy 40 years.) who has a very difficult second wife. The other 3 just get on with their lives, with a visit now and again.

Greyduster Thu 03-Mar-16 16:06:23

I had to learn to 'let go' of my son early as he went off to school as a boarder at 11! It broke my heart but we had little choice. He was fine; better than I'd hoped. He spent a few years at home after school getting vocational qualifications and then went off and joined the RAF for the next 22 years and made a very good career for himself. The one I found very difficult to let go of was my daughter. We turned down the best posting of DH's army career because I absolutely couldn't countenance sending her away to school. We bought a house instead and spent three years just seeing DH at weekends. She went off to uni, spent a year of her course living in France, and then came home and found a job and her long term partner. I still spend far too much of my time worrying about her, but I know where the demarcation lines are and the strings are well and truly cut. I do wonder though, how she will fare with her own son when he starts to spread his wings. It will make interesting watching!

tiredoldwoman Fri 04-Mar-16 05:36:07

I think it happens naturally but the other way round ?
My girls have let me go - they got busy with boyfriends , then partners , now husbands . That all brings new people into their lives enlarging their circle eg friends and in-laws . They're always busy but we keep in contact and I have the grandchildren a lot but they will not want me soon either as they'll be flying in their own worlds soon , too !

M0nica Fri 04-Mar-16 19:43:03

I started to let go at birth, rejoicing at every step my children took towards independence.

Shigsy Sun 06-Mar-16 10:14:51

I am a young nannie, however I had to learn the hard way to let go.My eldest son died of pancreatic cancer at twenty seven ,leaving behind a partner and two small children and one on the way.Now without him here I worry that the strong bonds I have developed with his children will somehow be broken,and I will loose them to.Shigsy

Luckylegs9 Thu 10-Mar-16 06:21:59

Shigsty, so very sorry that your son died, you must miss him dreadfully. I do hope that you are kept part of his wife's and your three grandchildrens lives. I feel sure that when the time feels right, you can gently raise the subject with dil, she must know you are always there for all of them and need to part of their lives if she wants you. Your son chose her so I hope very much that she does what he would have wanted. Please come on the forum for support, we all need each other at times.

Imperfect27 Thu 10-Mar-16 07:28:01

Echoing Luckylegs's post. So sorry to hear of your loss Shigsty. I do hope you can keep contact and draw comfort from enjoying your grandchildren. xx flowers

As a very new nanny, I have recently reflected on leaving my hometown and moving 140 miles away from my parents when I was 27, with 2 young children. Up until then my mum and dad had been very involved grandparents, looking after my children when I went back to work. Neither of them could drive and neither could I at that time so visits were limited to every 3 months or so. Whatever the pain they experienced - and I am only beginning to realise what a gap we left - they did not communicate it. They never made me feel bad / guilty about being so far away and we kept up contact (pre-Skype) with a weekly telephone call and thoughtful parcels my mum sent which contained 'little treasures' such as a lovingly knitted dolly's dress, a toy car etc. In a long winded way, I am saying they 'let us go' with good grace, selflessly readapting. I am really thankful for that.

Veragrace71 Sun 13-Mar-16 16:30:11

My son is 52. We were once very close but no more. When his wife left him with a 3 year old son he asked & flew to America to look after the little one & help find day care for him. We argued over his lack of parenting skills, I went to a motel, he apologized for calling me a bitch & I carried on. I have always been available for talks, encouragement, advice & some financial assistance. He decided to return to UK & he & my grandson came & lived at home for 6 months. We argued frequently about my grandson's care but how can you remain silent when a 3 year old says: " Nanny please don't let daddy spank me" or " Please tell daddy don't shout at me". My son refused to listen or discuss anything, Just calling me an interfering bitch if I tried to talk to him. I was looking after my grandson from age 3-6. Helping him adjust to school, his classwork, feeding, doing washing - everything a mum would do & yet I was not supposed to have an opinion. Eventually son took grandson away back to his wife 5 hours drive away. after argument that I was feeding him too much & he was getting fat. He wasn't fat I took him to the doctor & asked. Grandson & I devastated to be parted, he didn't want to go to his mum. I now see him school holidays & ring him every week. He cries when he has to go & now has started asking mum & dad " Why are you keeping me away from my Nan?" Initially it was "You can't keep me forever, I need to go back to my Nan." To his mum. I am still heartbroken 6 months later & have nothing to do with my son. Can't bear the sight of him. I don't know how he could be so cruel so I am done with him. He is no longer the son I knew. I can't get past his actions.

Wendysue Wed 16-Mar-16 08:36:48

In my view, "letting go" involves 2 things: 1. stepping back and letting our kids do things on their own - as MOnica suggests, this starts early on; 2. letting them make their own choices - and respecting those choices. This, too, IMO, begins early - letting them pick between 2 outfits and so forth.

But, of course, when they're kids, we often have to guide them in their choices; when they're adults, I think the hard part for a lot of parents is that they don't want/need/accept our guidance so much, anymore. So then, letting go often means accepting their decisions even when we doubt their practicallity or totally disagree. And by "accepting," I mean not questioning, criticizing, arguing or in any way trying to get them to change their minds and do it our way. There may be a lot of tongue-biting cuz we're so used to advising them and so forth. But we have to adjust to that, I believe.

When they get married and/or move into their own place, it also means, I would say, understanding that they now get to make the rules for their home - and eventually for their kids - and that we need to respect those rules, even if they're different than ours. That's also hard for some older parents/GPs. But, IMO, it's part of letting them go and become independent adults and so forth.

Wendysue Wed 16-Mar-16 09:21:11

Shigsy, I'm so deeply sorry for your loss. My heart goes out to you and to your late DS' family!

Like others, I hope his partner will keep you in your GC's lives. She may draw closer to you in your shared grief, but please understand if she needs some space, instead. I can't say, for sure, but I think the more supportive you are now and respectful of her needs, the more she'll be willing to maintain the relationship as time goes on.

There may be a little loosening of the ties, of course, if she, eventually, begins a new life with a new partner. I hope you'll be able to understand that and not pressure her to keep you involved on the same level. Again, if you respect her needs, chances are, the two of you will be able to work out ways for you to stay in touch and visit with your grands and so on. At least, that's what I think, anyway.

Lots of (((hugs!)))

Wendysue Wed 16-Mar-16 09:32:57

Veragrace, I feel for you, as well. (((Hugs!))) Since I frequently watch my grands, I know how involved a "granny nanny" can become. I don't blame you for speaking up when your son spanked or yelled at your GS. It's still not unusual for parents to use these methods, of course, but if GS was turning to you about these things, how could you not say something? My heart aches just thinking about it!

Maybe you should have respected your son's wishes on other issues like how much to feed GS (unless what son wanted was inadequate). In fact, I guess I think so. After all, GS is HIS child, NOT YOURS. (That's the hard part, I think, about helping to raise a grand - you -general you - may feel like their parent - but you aren't.) But yelling and hitting are a different matter.

Also, I imagine it must be have been heart-wrenching to go from taking care of GS every day to only seeing him on holidays! Such a HUGE change! Oh! I'm glad you're able to keep in regular touch with him by telephone, however. Perhaps, when he's older, if his parents will allow it, you can also talk to him on FB and so forth.

But what I really don't understand is how parents can think it's ok to separate a child so much from someone who has been so much a part of his life! I'm not surprised that GS misses you and they shouldn't be either. Poor little guy!

I'm glad for his sake, though, that his frustration about that seems to have lessened - going from "I need to go back to my Nan" to "Why are you keeping me away from my Nan?" I hope, in time, again for his sake, it will simply be, "I wanna see my Nan" or "Can we visit Nan?" But, happily, it's clear you'll always have a central place in his heart. (As he gets older, he may be able to visit you on his own whenever he wants, though, of course, he may be too busy with other interests and activities.)

Meanwhile, I'm sorry you're relationship with your son seems to be over. I can see why, however, and don't blame you. I'm not sure how the visits with GS are continuing if you "have nothing to do with" your son though. If you don't mind my asking, how does that work? Do GS and his mother come over and visit without your son? Or am I being too nosy?

PRINTMISS Wed 16-Mar-16 11:43:27

I have always thought that the greatest gift we can give our children is their freedom. I am taking it for granted that we love them to bits and anyone or any thing that hurts them will hurt us too, but we decided that our son needed to be away from us, to give him and us more freedom, and although it was difficult at first, it was worth the effort. He has a better life than we could have given him if we had kept him with us. This is probably a little different from sons/daughters leaving home, but in the same theme. We have a lovely daughter and her family, they do not contact us that much, but we always know they are there, and they make sure we are both coping. My daughter was encouraged to go her own way, and her children (as different as chalk and cheese) have been allowed to do the same. It is surprising and interesting, what different lives we all now lead, and I know that we are fortunate in as much as we have not had some of the sad experiences so many others seem to have had.

happydais Tue 05-Apr-16 00:57:15

I have a unique problem. My daughter needed me when she had a child and a very high powered job. The father left her after 4 years. I helped out for 3 months when he was born, prior to day care. I travelled to the USA 3 times year to give her my support. She was introduced to her husband when the child was 5. They married and became a family. Now, the father is back on the scene, has talked his way into their lives and spends every weekend visiting with his son. Between the three of them the child has been indulged, never been left, is taken out to dine. He plays sports every day, having been signed up for 3 clubs. He has two fathers and my daughter has two men. I find this very hard to accept. I moved to be near her but she has gone back to college to do a Masters and I am completely alone now. We used to spend a lot of time together, but now I am a burden. It's so hard to make new friends at my age. I've joined clubs but people have their lives set and I spend such a lot of time on my own. I know what you're going to say and I agree, but part of my problem is chronic fatigue which means I have to pace myself. I would love to befriend someone who understands. Thanks for listening. xx

thatbags Tue 05-Apr-16 09:37:02

With regard to letting go, my approach has always been this: inch by inch, millimetre by millimetre even, I have been letting go of my children since birth. In my view it's rarely a slap bang wallop sort of break; they just grow more independent all the time. And I encourage(d) that ecause I felt that's what my job was: to help them grow up into independent adults, people who don't need parents any more in a practical sense but who still appreciate their parents as other independent adults but ones with whom they have a special emotional bond.

In some ways I feel closer to my adult children now than I did when they were small; they understand me now, what motivated me as I was bringing them up. They know, in short, that I (and their father) always had their best interests at heart, that we will always care about them even though we no longer have to care for them.

I think it's important for parents to make sure their kids know that they, the parents, always have a life, hopes, dreams apart from their kids too. Perhaps the thing is never to invest all one's energies in one's offspring.

A little while ago I had to go and collect Minibags from school because she was unwell. I told the school first-aider who rang me that I'd be there in two hours (normally it would take about half an hour). When I picked M up she asked why I had taken so long. I answered: "Because I had a commitment to some other people; I couldn't let them down. I knew you would come to no harm by having to wait a bit." She was fine with that and I think she learned something.

Elegran Tue 05-Apr-16 09:58:15

Give them roots and wings. Wings to fly, roots to come back to.

harrigran Tue 05-Apr-16 10:08:57

I agree Elegran and bags smile

Gagagran Tue 05-Apr-16 10:59:38

Well said bags and elegran. Perfectly put.