Ask an Older Woman #21: Letting Go of Young Adult Children

Q: How do you let go of your child as they approach college and start to live as an adult on their own?

A: I woke up in the hotel room with a pit in my stomach. It was the day we were dropping our firstborn off at college. I was determined to push my own emotions aside and make this a fun, memorable day, so I quietly began to plan: the photos I wanted to take, the quiet moment of prayer I wanted us to have in her dorm room, and a special dinner out—just the three of us. But as it turned out, my daughter had her own ideas on how the day should go. 

I got my first jolt of role-reversal when I learned that the orientation schedule had been emailed to her, not me, so she had already created her plan for the day—which, incidentally, did not revolve around photos, prayers, or a dinner out with her parents.

That evening, there was a freshman cookout (which I also did not know about), and she asked us to drop her off down the hill, so she could walk in by herself. She didn’t see us drive past, but even from fifty yards away I could read the apprehension on her face, which released an avalanche of emotions that I wasn’t expecting. I felt sad. Frustrated. Disappointed. Hurt. Protective. Angry. Worried. Unsure. 

My precious girl was walking into the unknown without me. I had no control. Yet God did. I clung to this comfort then, and I’m still clinging to it now.

As you prepare to send your child to college, here are several questions to keep your heart’s desire to control in check. 

Questions to Ask Yourself about Control

Will I trust God with the future?

As a mom of college students, I’m prone to worrying about things like: 

  • What if he doesn’t make friends?
  • What if she only makes friends and neglects her studies?
  • What if he’s negatively influenced by her professors or by other students?
  • What if she can’t keep up and has to drop out? 

Each fear is an opportunity to trust God, not just with this moment, but also with the future it’s tied to. It helps to jump forward to the outcome that I just can’t live without and surrender that to God. 

Maybe my college student daughter won’t make friends or will neglect her studies. Maybe she will be influenced by bad theology or bad friends. Those things might happen, but here’s what won’t: God will never fail me. Will I trust Him with both today and tomorrow? 

Will I let God be God? 

Once when my daughter was a new driver, I pulled up behind her at a stop sign. It looked like she was pulling out too soon, so I panicked, gripped the steering wheel, and shouted, “Lindsay!” She didn’t hear me, of course, and pulled out safely without even knowing I was there. 

It was a small reminder of how little control I truly have. The college phase has offered even bigger reminders of this, yet here’s what I’ve been learning: When I try to stick an imaginary steering wheel into my kids’ lives and steer them from afar, I only burden myself with control that doesn’t belong to me. When I try to play God, I only make myself and others miserable. 

God invites me to play my role, not His. I’m a mom. I’m there to offer encouragement and support. I’m there to pray for and root for my kids. I’m not there to maintain control. 

When I start to track my child’s whereabouts 24/7, make it my job to wake him up for class, demand she make certain moral choices, or require his church attendance records, there may be tangible proof that I’m forgetting something: God’s already in control, so I don’t have to be. 

God wants to not only be my God, but the God of my child as well. He has all sorts of creative solutions to her problems and ways He wants to correct and lead her, but this happens best without my interference. She thrives most when I choose to stop playing God and instead make room for God to be her God. 

Will I insist on control or invite my kids into a relationship? 

When our kids were babies, we were responsible moms when we took control—choosing what they ate and wore or what they were exposed to. But at the college stage, we’re responsible moms when we lay control down. If we refuse to do so, we’ll destroy the very influence and connection that God designed for us to have in our kids’ lives. 

Control is hazardous for relationships among adults. It drives wedges, creates distance, and destroys connection. Nagging doesn’t work. Stepping in isn’t a permanent solution. And giving incessant reminders puts a strain on relationships. When my college student starts to roll his eyes at my suggestions, react with irritation when I offer advice, or passively avoid me altogether, it’s time to ask: “Am I gripping control too tightly?” 

Of course, my teen might have his own control issues, but it’s not my job to hammer those out. As a mom, the only person I can ultimately control is myself. I can be kind, respectful, generous, and loving toward my child. I can be attentive when she calls and patient when she doesn’t. I can be a wise, godly mom and invite a relationship with her. And as it turns out, the relationship (not my control tactics) is what will influence her most. 

God asks me as a mom, to invite a relationship with my college-aged kids, not maintain control over them. 

The Antidote for Control 

It’s been five years since that orientation schedule went to my daughter’s inbox and not mine. In those five years, my desire for control hasn’t melted; in some ways it’s intensified as the stakes have become higher and the risks greater. Like when she wanted to do a summer internship in Costa Rica. Or when she waitressed until 2 a.m. and would walk back to campus. Or when she decided to stay in school an extra semester so she could be a resident assistant.

I’ve learned that each temptation to take control is also an opportunity to lay it down. Surrender is both the antidote for control and God’s instrument to change me. Surrender isn’t passive or easy. It’s a gritty, uphill battle. But when I say like Jesus did, “Not my will, but yours be done,” God transforms me, little by little, into the image of His Son.

About the Author

Shannon Popkin

Shannon Popkin

Shannon Popkin is happy to be sharing life with her husband, Ken, and together they have the joy of watching their three young-adult kids become the amazing people God created them to be. From the platform, page, and podcast mic, … read more …

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