Thoughts on Letting Go

The amazing duo of Kathy O’Malley and Judy Markey used to entertain listeners every weekday morning on WGN Radio in Chicago with their insight, humor and wildly creative antics.

Every year, toward the end of August, they produced a show called “Letting Go” – a three hour acknowledgement that it was time for kids to head off to college and their parents, moms especially, were going to need a big box of tissues.

The theme song of the segment every year was “Letting Go” by Suzy Bogguss which starts with the lyrics:

She’ll take the painting in the hallway,
The one she did in junior high
And that old lamp up in the attic,
She’ll need some light to study by.
She’s had 18 years to get ready for this day
She should be past the tears, she cries some anyway
Oh oh letting go
There’s nothing in the way now,
Oh letting go, there’s room enough to fly
And even though, she’s spent her whole life waiting,
It’s never easy letting go.

Caller after caller would chime in to say they were on their way to drop off their oldest child for their junior year or they were on the way home after delivering their youngest and now realizing they would be going home to an empty house.  Others would call in and tell Kathy and Judy that although their kids were only in grade school, they were listening and sobbing thinking of that day, way too soon, that they would be the ones trying to “Let Go”.

You just couldn’t listen to the radio show without indulging in a good, cathartic cry.

My oldest headed off to college 13 years ago. (EGADS! Is that possible?!?!) He selected a university that was about 20 minutes from home. One minor detail: his freshman year coincided with our relocation to a different state because of a job change. Walt likes to say he stayed home for college and sent his parents away. It was the best of all worlds. He got to stay in a city he loved and was very familiar with but he didn’t have to worry about his mom showing up unexpectedly on his doorstep. Win-win!

But seriously, do I seem like the kind of mom who would do that? Who, Moi? (Walt, you do not get to answer the question.)

Three years later my daughter flew the nest. Fortunately, she chose a university that was just a couple of hours away. Far enough to guard against surprises (see paragraph above) but close enough to come home for the occasional weekend or have mom and dad come to campus to treat for dinner.

Still, once Annie had gone to college, even though she was not too far away, our nest was empty and I was terrible at letting go. Peter, bless his heart, knew I’d be a puddle of a weepy mess after dropping our baby off so he planned a trip for the two of us. It was something to look forward to. And it did help.

I confess it took me some time to get used to the new reality, the quiet, the change of tempo in our lives. But I did. And you will too.

We work so hard to teach our kids to be independent and then they go off and become independent, leaving us behind. I call this a job well done. Our children have gone on to become fun, interesting and productive adults and I am crazy-proud of them.

Whether you are dreading your child’s departure or are already taking measurements to redecorate their room as soon as it is vacant, whether your student graduates and moves across the country for a new job or moves back home for a little while to get his feet on the ground, keep your eye on the prize. Independent kids and an empty nest has always been the long-term goal. The crowning achievement of parenthood.

It will be fine. You will be fine. I promise.


PS Three days after publishing this post, WGN Radio announced that the incomparable duo of Kathy and Judy will be returning to the airwaves. Read about my dance of joy here.

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  1. I agree with everything you said about letting go. However, sometimes the flip side is that they COME BACK after you’ve resigned yourself to empty-nestdom 🙂

  2. Great post, Mo!!! No truer words have been said. A week from Tues. my #2 and I are setting out for a 22 hr drive to VA to drop her off for college. Altho it’s her 2nd year I know I will be a mess!

  3. I opened this post shortly after Michael and Tim drove off to Nashville this morning. I’m feeling a bit verklempt, especially knowing that we take our “baby” to Seattle next Sunday. After the bustle of the summer, with the house filled with the boys and their friends, I am not looking forward to the echoing silence in the house. But I am so proud of all of them, their independence and confidence. And perhaps a bit envious that their journeys are just beginning, with so many adventures ahead of them.

  4. Right now I think I’d like to try my hand at letting go. In my house I have my 22, 20, 18, 16, and 15-year olds. Okay, the fifteen and sixteen can stay. Maybe the 18, too, since she just graduated. But with the world the way it is right now it feels like they’ll never leave. Who can afford it?

    Seriously, I’ll be better once school starts. The 22 will be going full time and working part time so we’ll barely see her, even though she’ll sleep here. The 18 will go nearly full time and I’m hoping she can get a job. The 20 is only taking one class and says she wants a job but hasn’t put much effort in. The 15 and 16 will be full time in high school, of course. Plus marching band and football. I guess they’ll be busy.

    My husband lost his job nearly two months ago. So for the last two months I have had seven full-sized people in my not very big house nearly all day every day and I’m going absolutely crazy! I’m ready to try the empty nest thing. Can I try it for just a day or two? Please? I just need some quiet and some space.

    Stopping by from SITS. Thanks for the therapy session.

    • Holy moley, you do have a very full and overcrowded nest. I’m glad you shared your story here because the reality is, there are probably more people in your situation than in the fantasy world of the perfect empty nest. Sending virtual hugs and good thoughts for you and your family!
      Mo recently posted…Bread SaladMy Profile

  5. AWWW, I love this post. And I LOVE this song…total high school flashback just listening to this! 🙂 My little one is starting kindergarten, and I already get teary-eyed thinking of college! ;)-Ashley

  6. This is beautiful! I know my mom was quite the basket case when she dropped me off at college because I’m an only child. Her little baby, all grown up. There were a few tears shed on my side as well. One of the only guarantees in life is that things will change, and you just have to deal with them as they come.

    • You are so right Kristen! Sometimes you hear letting go is hardest with your first and your last – your mom’s reaction was completely understandable since she was dropping off her first and last!
      Mo recently posted…Thoughts on Letting GoMy Profile

  7. Wonderful words of wisdom! I am not a parent, so I can’t relate to that part. But, I have had to let go of enough things in my life that I can relate to the idea of “letting go.”

  8. Our youngest is leaving this weekend to begin her sophomore year on the other side of the country. Sigh. Our oldest is starting his first year of grad school on the opposite coast too. Heavy sigh. I find the hardest part of getting used to the empty nest is handling the comings and goings over the holidays and summer. I get back into mommy mode and then they leave again. Will it get easier?

    • Maybe not easier but different. I find the distance to be the toughest but then I remember that a) I did the same “go to college 1,000 miles from home” thing to my mom and b) both of my kids have made choices based on what is best for their future. I can’t argue with that! Hang in there!
      Mo recently posted…Kathy and Judy Are Coming BackMy Profile

  9. Reading this made me sad too…not because I have one off to college yet but because that day is coming far too quickly. My oldest is a junior this year, I have another one starting high school and the third one will be there in a blink of an eye. Where did the time go?! Thanks for the follow — I just followed you back and am very glad to connect!!


  1. […] little background information you should know.  (I didn’t include this in my Letting Go post because I wanted to focus on the positive message but you need to hear this part of the […]

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