“Hiking The John Muir~Letting Go Of Mothering” – by Lily Maino, M.S.

My 17-year-old son leaves today for a 200-mile hike across the Sierra Nevada mountain range of California, starting in Yosemite, hiking through Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks to end 20 days later at Mount Whitney. Some of you may know this trail as the famous John Muir. He will be hiking with his grandfather and I’m sure my father will not miss an opportunity to share his wisdom and passion for life with my son. This is a grand adventure- a coming of age journey for my son.

I have helped my son to prepare all the supplies he will need for his trip. I have packed his first aid kit with everything I can possibly imagine him needing. I have written a letter and stuffed it at the bottom of his huge backpack. I have checked and double checked that he has enough food to last the journey. He is prepared!

It signifies his entering into manhood. It means he is an adult and no longer my little boy to protect, guide, and watch over. But no one has prepared me to let go.

Letting go in my line of work is a positive thing; something one strives for. But for me this letting go is anything but easy. I don’t want to let go! I don’t want him to venture off into the big unknown. I don’t want him to face trials and tribulations. Not because I’m scared for him. No, he will do just fine. I’m scared for me…

I am not ready to let go of my role as his mother. I am not ready to let him live his life without my daily, watchful eye. I am not ready to let go! As a matter of fact- I’m terrified! And just think, I have three more kids to go through this process with. 

So why does it terrify me? Not because of him becoming a man. I know the whole coming of age saga- I’ve already done that. I get the identity formation process and the decreased need for dependence and the transition to mature interdependence. But I have never had to choose to let go of something or someone that I love more than life itself. 

Precious people have been taken from me, have passed on and I have lived through the griefJohn-Muir-Trail-2006-325 process. This is different- I am supposed to willingly (even gratefully) let go of my son. No! That doesn’t seem fair! I want to see his smiling face everyday. I want to hear his stories everyday. I want to bug, nag, hug, scold, spoil, listen, and watch him EVERYDAY! In my opinion, adulthood should start when we as parents no longer want to be bothered with the monotonous tasks of parenthood. I’m not there yet! 

Can I let go and hold into him simultaneously? Can I go on his adventures with him? I have my own backpack. Can I go away to college with him? Would the dorms let me set up my air mattress permanently on his floor? I’ll pay rent.

I have no map for our relationship after today. This is unchartered territory for us both. Our relationship will never be the same. Of course, I will always be his mother but my role and involvement in his life from this moment on will be different. And this is what scares me.

When my son was just a chubby, happy baby, people used to say, “Treasure every minute because before you know it, it will be gone”. I really listened! I thought I was a conscientious, present parent. I thought I was “remembering” his growth and accomplishments with saved photos and framed drawings. But today, on this cusp, I realize that no one could have prepared me for how fast he grew, matured, transformed from baby to man. And no one could have prepared me for this mixture of emotions: pride in the man he has turned out to be, gratitude for the time we’ve had, and longing to holding his chubby toddler hand in mine. 

In a class, years ago, a wise teacher said, “all change is loss, it requires us to grieve, even if it is good and expected – change is hard”. I feel like I finally get it (yes, I’m a slow learner). 

So I ask you, those of you who have gone before me- how do you transition from mom of a child to mom of a man? How do I let go when I so badly want to hold on?

– by Lily Maino, M.S.

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