A Happy Mother’s Day as a Mom Lets Go (of Her College Age Son)

Mother’s Day is usually about dandelion bouquets and a first scorched effort at French toast. It is focused, in other words, to the moms of young, mommy-smitten kids.

This piece comes to us from Deborah L. Jacobs, author most recently of Four tryfhrteaf
Seasons in a Day: Travel, Transitions and Letting Go of the Place We Call Home
from which this essay is adapted. It’s about being the mom of an older kid, and still evaluating your role. You can follow Deborah on Facebook and Twitter.


Launching and Leaving, By Deborah L. Jacobs

Friends and family who heard that my husband and I would be going to France for three months, the week after taking our only child to college, had mixed reactions.

Some applauded our plans to start a new chapter. Others speculated that since we would be away ourselves, we wouldn’t notice the vacancy in our home. A third group offered to help out if our son, Jack, needed anything while we were in Europe. Certainly they meant well, but they seemed to think that we were abandoning him, while our goal was to help launch him as a confident, independent young adult.

Of course, we wanted to know any details of his new adventure that he was inclined to share. But we didn’t see a purpose – or benefit to him – of being on standby alert “just in case.” And “just in case” what, for example?

Raised as a free-range kid in New York City, Jack is street-smart, observant, and adapt at navigating subway snafus. But as a high school senior, he was terrified of what lay ahead. I wanted him to believe that we can get comfortable with uncertainty and embark on adventures that are not clearly charted. And I saw an opportunity to lead by example.

Ken and I are among the many baby boomers who have left traditional work arrangements, by choice or circumstance, sooner than expected. He had been sidelined by back problems and a profound hearing loss. I had resigned an oppressive editorial job to reclaim my independence as a writer. To make up for the loss of a steady paycheck, we planned to rent our Brooklyn townhouse during Jack’s first semester of college and downsize to smaller quarters in rural France.

As our misadventures there turned into a book, on the other side of the Atlantic Jack’s transition, at the University of Colorado in Boulder, went much more smoothly. Initially, he texted several times a day about what seemed like mundane issues – for example, getting to class on time and where he sat in large lecture halls. Perhaps he was testing whether we could still be available to him from afar.

Some of our weekly FaceTime conversations dealt with more pressing concerns – most notably the frat rush. When Jack called us to vent, he had already turned down a bid, or invitation to join. (We were delighted that he made the decision without us.) Because of the eight-hour time difference, these calls couldn’t always be as spontaneous as Jack would have liked, and we were all frustrated when quirky Wi-Fi systems interrupted them. But apart from that, he would later tell us, nothing was different than it would have been with us back in Brooklyn.

I am proud that Jack is now a thriving sophomore, doing well academically and killing it as a sports reporter for the college newspaper and TV station. Most importantly, he is learning to live in a community that doesn’t consist of his two adoring parents.

As with letting our kids cross the street or bike to a friend’s, each mini milestone requires a transition from protector to teacher to let go-er. All are important, even though the last leg  looks like it’s just a goodbye. Actually, it’s a hello to the ever more fully-functioning person we have raised.

Happy Mother’s Day, wherever you are on the journey.


Deborah Jacobs and her husband, far, far from their only child.






11 Responses to A Happy Mother’s Day as a Mom Lets Go (of Her College Age Son)

  1. ChicagoDad May 14, 2017 at 9:00 am #

    Happy mother’s day to all the moms out there!!

  2. Miriam May 14, 2017 at 10:08 am #

    My Mother’s Day greeting this morning was a FB post from my 23-year-old son who is in Kigali, Rwanda. He’s ready to fly and it’s good to watch him soar.

  3. AmyP May 14, 2017 at 11:33 am #

    Happy Mothers Day. On the topic of Mothers Day, my daughter (7) gave me a birdhouse she made at school. They sawed the wood and used hammers and nails to put it together. Not that I personally think this is dangerous, but after seeing so many stories of schools gone crazy in the name of safety, it was refreshing to me that the school allowed and encouraged them to do this. It came out really nicely and she was so proud.

  4. Jessica May 14, 2017 at 1:14 pm #

    I have a 5-year-old who is adorable and mommy-obsessed. As rewarding as it is, I am also looking forward to seeing him spread his wings and turn into an adult!

  5. Rebel mom May 14, 2017 at 4:13 pm #

    This is a great post as I just got off the phone with my MIL who is babysitting her daughter’s three children bc she’s off in the Bahamas for the weekend to celebrate her 20 year anniversary with her husband. The funny part – the ‘children’ being babysat are 18, 16 and 14. None are disabled or special needs. I hope if I had kids that age I could leave them (in the richest part of town in a huge house, no less) for a couple days. Ugh

  6. hineata May 14, 2017 at 4:29 pm #

    I have ended up with the opposite of what I expected (but right in line with my husband’s Malaysian expectations ). My son is twenty and, like most of his school and university friends, still living at home. And it’s working out well! His sisters have an older male (and his friends ) to bounce ideas and their teen angst off. I have another driver to ferry the non driver around. He mows the lawns, does other housework and is generally pleasant to be around.

    He tells us where he’s off to in a general sense (like my roommates and I told each other) but otherwise operates independently. He spent the summer completely out of touch with NZ in a closed country.

    He will leave home when he finishes uni, but I don’t worry about it. I expect no. 2 will also be at home while she studies, with some travel etc in between. The ‘fly the coop at 16-18’ is fairly rare in most of the world (unless you’re a rural Chinese female).

  7. Jessica May 14, 2017 at 4:46 pm #

    Whatever works for your family is great! It sounds like everyone is enjoying your system. 🙂

  8. hineata May 14, 2017 at 4:49 pm #

    Happy Mother’s day, by the way ☺.

  9. hineata May 14, 2017 at 5:50 pm #

    Thanks Jessica! Yes, it is working well, to my pleasant surprise ☺. Quite against my ideas as a young mum.

    Just as well really, as we are going through a bit of an accommodation ‘crisis’ down here in Wellington and Auckland at the moment (and Christchurch still struggles, years after the quake ). So just as well we all get along alright.

  10. Michael May 14, 2017 at 6:41 pm #

    With continuing thanks for all you do to make this world a better place. Truly.

  11. John B. May 14, 2017 at 11:39 pm #

    Happy Mother’s Day moms!!!!!