When my son, our youngest, began kindergarten, I sat down every morning for two weeks and cried. I felt overwhelming sorrow. I looked like a complete idiot. I sat in puddles of my own tears.
The time of spending my days sitting with my son on a curbside watching trucks go by, or standing in a sunny park pushing him on a swing, was over. He was moving on: to yellow school buses, to new friends, to teachers who would touch his life. I was happy for him. But, I was sad for me, and I felt a great loss.
I did not analyze or rationalize my feelings away. And for once, I did not judge myself. I did not run from my sadness, nor did I "get busy." I did not berate myself with statements like, "He's only going to kindergarten!" or, "What's wrong with you?" Instead, I sat on my couch and allowed myself to cry.
It felt good. And somehow, I knew that if I did not cry, I would live my life as a big, fat, fake. I would be busy. I would be productive. But, I wouldn't be real. And I didn't want that. Instead, I wanted to keep what I had been with my son: a woman who feels fully alive and excited at the sight of a truck passing by; a woman who feels joy at the sight of a child swinging up to the sky. I also wanted to be a woman who lets her son go. I could not figure out how to do any of these things intellectually, but I did know that the only way out is through. So, I sat down, felt my sadness, and cried.
Our society isn't big on grief. Instead, we prefer to say things like, "Get over it!" or, "Put your big girl pants on and deal with it!" Don't get me wrong: I know that we do indeed need to get over it and move on. But I can't even begin to find my big girl pants, much less get them on, if I don't first have a good cry. Otherwise, those tears get stuffed down into my bones and they become dead weight.
From those weeks of sitting alone on my sofa, I developed a parenting strategy that has worked well in helping me to let go and to move on. When I feel silly grief over silly things, I do not discount it. Instead, I allow myself to look like a blubbering fool. When I finally removed my son's preschool artwork from the refrigerator, I cried for three days. When I rode in a plastic boat with my kids through the simple, painted beauty of "It's A Small World" at Disney World, I wept behind my dark sunglasses for a full 15 minutes, because I knew that such innocence was fleeting. When I looked out at my backyard one day and saw an empty swing being pushed by the wind, I wailed. When I watched our old videos of my children in their first school plays, I lost it for days on end.
But after each cry, I felt great. My grief disappeared and I could see the gorgeousness and rightness of whatever was in front of me. I no longer yearned for it to be as it once was. I loved it for whatever it had changed into.
My son will graduate from high school next week. The time of spending my days looking forward to him walking through our front door every afternoon is almost over. He is moving on: to college, to independence, to a life without me. I am happy for him. And I can honestly say that I am ready. I do feel sad at times, and I will probably have a good cry on graduation day. But most days, I feel fully alive. Most days, I feel joy at the sight of so much change happening right before my eyes. And most days, I know that I am a woman who can let her son go. Because on most days, I have allowed myself to cry.
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