Mothering and the Art of Letting Go

Photo credit: Hannah Liyan Photography

For as long as I can remember, my oldest daughter, Cora, has dreamed of going to Brigham Young University for college. For years she has worked hard in school, studied for the ACT, practiced ballroom dancing, attended seminary, read her scriptures, and done everything in her power to prepare. She re-wrote her essays half a dozen times until she was confident that she was telling her story in the way she wanted it told. Finally, she pushed “Submit” and for several months she waited. We all waited.

Last week, the email with the results came. The entire family gathered, expectantly, our phones on record to capture the big moment when her long-held dream finally came true.

She opened the email . . . and she did not get in.

Matt hugged her while she cried. I stood there in shock. I was profoundly unprepared for this result.

It took me a few days to process everything. In the meantime, I contacted the BYU admissions office, exchanged emails with our friend Curt who runs the BYU ballroom program, plotted ten different scenarios for what Cora was now going to do with her life, analyzed all the ways I had possibly failed as a mother to prepare her for this moment, spent some time doing rage-laundry while ranting to Matt about the patriarchy, and cried a bunch of times.

You know, totally normal, sane reactions.

And all the while, Cora was surprising me. First, she surprised me by being genuinely happy for her friends that got in, without a hint of jealousy or bitterness. And let me tell you, I was ready to be there for the bitter jealousy. With snacks.

She surprised me by her ability to bring humor into the situation right away, and to use it to heal.

Cora doing her “When You Don’t Get Into College” pose at our family snow photo shoot

She was able to tap into her network of friends and family for love and support as she navigated her sadness, grief, and feelings of uncertainty. As some adults in her life began to throw out advice, she was able to discern for herself the good from the bad.

I was surprised and delighted that she was not paralyzed by disappointment. Almost immediately she started figuring everything out for herself. She started taking ownership of her own life, her own path, her own dreams.

And for the first time I started to really see that my daughter is going to be just fine without me. I mean, as mothers we always say that we know this. But I planned to set her down gently at BYU, with our (my) safe plan in motion, with everything lined up just so. But now that there is an absence of this safe plan, I think I finally know this for real.

Cora is ready to launch into the world. She’s got this. While her initial path won’t be what we had planned, new possibilities are already starting to manifest that seem right for her. New allies are emerging. Her confidence and faith are growing.

I’ll probably be fine too. The hard part is that it’s really sinking in that it is time to step back, to let go. They don’t really prepare you for this end of things, when they give you that squishy little bundle at the hospital. They don’t warn you that someday she will grow up and be fierce and independent and ready to blaze off into her life without you.

And so here we are. At the threshold of releasing. I feel so many things. Love. Pride. Confidence. Fear. Curiosity. Joy. Wonder. What a gift it has been to raise this beautiful young woman. How my heart aches to let her go. But I am starting to see that the letting go is one of the most sacred, important parts of mothering. And while I’m not perfect at it, I am grateful to Cora for being gentle with me as I figure it out.

My job is now to simply watch in love and awe as she breathes her beautiful spirit into this broken world.

Photo credit: Hannah Liyan Photography

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