Letting Go… The Hardest Part About Parenting Teens and How to See the Upside

Their independence is the name of the game, and we need to be a willing participant

by Nancy Reynolds

This Post: Letting Go… the Hardest Part About Parenting Teens and How to See the Upside

Written By: Marybeth Bock

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could keep our kids little for just a little longer? Knowing they’re growing up, knowing they’re venturing farther and farther away from us, knowing we can’t protect them nearly as much as we once did is a letting go process that isn’t easy to wrap our hearts and minds around.

However, as much as we’d like our kids to remain in our protective embrace forever, the ultimate goal on our parenting journey is to help our kids become competent, kind, happy adults. And, that means we don’t have a choice… we have to prepare them for the real world by starting to let them go before they leave our tender loving care.

Letting Go… The Hardest Part About Parenting Teens and How to See the Upside


But, as a mom of teens, can we all agree that letting go of our kids as they inch toward adulthood is so hard? Old habits sure are hard to break, aren’t they?

As much as our kids are trying to pull away, almost as if they’re patting us on the back with an affirming nod saying, “You taught me well, Mom and Dad. Now it’s time to let me fly,” we’re just not ready. Sure, they might tower over us, seem mature, and have a deep voice, but we still view their little hand in ours.

Remember when your child was a baby? You may have rolled your eyes at the saying “Little kids, little problems. Big kids, big problems.” After all, those exhausting and sleepless late nights with your little one and those toddler temper tantrums in Target, because you wouldn’t buy them a toy, seemed like a big problem at the time, right!?

But now, well… life just got a whole lot bigger. Your son or daughter might be driving (which, in itself, will take five years off your life), hanging out with friends you don’t know well or perhaps never met, and living life on social media where you know danger lurks around every corner – all things you don’t have nearly the control over that you’d like.

Frankly, even “good kids” who have never caused their parents much grief or worry and typically walked the straight and narrow path, may suddenly decide to stretch their wings of freedom a little too much putting their parents into a tailspin of disbelief.

Still… let go you must. In fact, the more we hang on, the tighter our grip is, the more control we try to hold onto, the bigger disservice we’re doing to our kids

Their independence is the name of the game, and we need to be a willing participant.

You won’t let them go completely, of course, (it’s a process), but you do have to step back from time to time. Build them up, support them, guide them, let them know you’ll always be there for them, and then... set them free to figure out a few things on their own.

You have given them what they need (for now, at least), and you still have time for more life lessons and teachings, so try not to fret too much. 

As your teenager speeds toward their own life outside of your orbit, there are things you can do to ease your mind and theirs.

Here are a few thoughts on how you can slowly loosen your grip over time and also what you have to look forward to once you loosen your grasp just a bit.

1. See the Good in it All

When you’re raising teens, it can be especially hard to see the good in everyday life. When they turned in their homework late (again). When you can’t see the floor of their disastrously messy bedroom (again). Or when they’re in another one of their hormone-driven moods… (Still!? Is this EVER going to end?)

That’s why you have to look for the good in each day – their developing skills that pop up every now and then and offer you a glimmer of hope that things really WILL be okay. And when they do pop up, you compliment your teen, reinforce them, and praise them for showing signs of adulting. (The more praise and validation they receive, the more they’ll continue to do it!)

Did they do their laundry alone this time? GREAT! Did they clean up the kitchen after making themselves a snack PROGRESS! Did they figure out a problem on their own? CONSIDER IT A WIN!

2. But Also, the Not So Good

Yes, catch them being responsible and mature. But also, catch them in areas where they’re not doing so great and might need a little reinforcement, reminder, or prodding. Is their laundry piling up? Is their bathroom a mess? Are they showering enough (I mean, one can hope)? 

It might be time to re-teach some basic life skills. Explain, gently, that soon enough they may be sharing a dorm room or apartment with other people, and they need to be a good roommate. That prompt may be enough, but they also may need a refresher course.

Knowing your teen is moving in the right “adultlike” direction may make you more confident in letting go knowing they can take care of themselves.

3. Discuss the Future… NOW

It may be hard to look at the future while you’re still dealing with your teen in the present, it can be a tricky subject at best. But it’s awfully hard to start letting go of your teen if you don’t have the comfort of knowing you’re both working toward the same goal(s). 

Discussing expectations about their future can ease some of your “letting go” concerns and worries. Are you on the same page, chapter, or book? Knowing where your teen is headed can provide you with good intel so you can guide them in this last hurrah of childhood. Also, while plans can change, knowing that you’re working WITH your teen can help you be more confidently hands-off in the future. 

4. Letting Them Go Means Letting Go of Your Expectations

Being firmly rooted in their reality – whether that post-high school plan you’ve always envisioned as a family isn’t going to happen (for now) or there isn’t even a plan (for now), can help you deal with yours. Remember, this is your child’s journey, not yours. Our goal is to help our kids reach their goals… not our goals. 

No matter what the future holds, know that it does hold something for them. And in knowing that, you can relax a little and loosen your grip on the reigns. 

5. The Upside: Their Independence Means More Independence For You

While the term “empty nester” isn’t always thought of positively, think back on every stage in which your kids have grown a little more independent and what it’s meant for you. Whether you had the freedom to sleep well once they slept through the night, the freedom to venture out for a bit once they could stay with a sitter, or even the freedom to not have to drive them everywhere once they got their license, you may not realize it, but you’ve been letting go little by little since they were young.

Now it just feels so much harder because they’re headed from teenagerhood to young adulthood where they’ll venture out into the vast openness of the world without you. And, what’s even harder is that it may feel like they don’t need you anymore. Of course, nothing could be farther from the truth! They will always need their mamas AND dads. It’s HOW they need you that’s changing. Never forget that giving them a bit of space leaves room for them to come back… and, they will be back. 

About Marybeth Bock:

Marybeth Bock, MPH, is a Mom to two young adults and one delightful hound dog. She has logged time as a military spouse, childbirth educator, college instructor, and freelance writer. She lives in Arizona and thoroughly enjoys research and writing – as long as iced coffee is involved. Her work can be found on numerous websites and in two books. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram.


If you enjoyed reading, “Letting Go… The Hardest Part About Parenting Teens and How to See the Upside,” here are a few other posts you might enjoy reading:

15 Things Kids Should Know to Prepare Them for College

Am I Caring For or Enabling My Teen? One Mom’s Honest Answer

Help Your Teen Learn to Adult: 20 Life Skills They Need

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