The Art of Letting Go:

Joanna Lilley, MA, NCC
Oct 18 · 3 min read

Grieving your child, and learning how to be a parent of a young adult

It’s important to know your role as a parent will always remain. It’s just that the job description and requirements shift, drastically. Being 18 years old is an arbitrary age for when we say as a society that a young person is ready to step out into the world on their own. Maybe you fantasized about them leaving the nest as you were holding them in your arms at the hospital years ago. Yet, now that it’s time for them to live on their own and take care of themselves you have a sinking feeling they aren’t ready. You haven’t taught them everything they need to know yet. You’re afraid they won’t make it. The reality is, they may not be ready. We won’t know though until we let them out of the nest, right?

There’s a finesse to transitioning your role from housekeeper, cook, shuttle driver, and bill payer to then consultant, and friend. You can continue to help them as they navigate the world on their own, but there’s a difference in how you have to respond. When they’re in trouble, you need to step back and not rescue them. Your role now is strictly to advise them on what the do for themselves. Instead of requiring they tell you where they are at all times, the lines of communication are left open but the ball is in their court to initiate. They are studying and or working and they are responsible for their own bills. You are no longer required to provide those basic needs of shelter. You don’t do their laundry, cook their food, or drive them places. And if they ask you to do that, kindly share with them that you’d do it once in a while if they asked otherwise it’s no longer your responsibility.

Hard to accept the idea of holding such a strong boundary for a seemingly helpless young person. The reality is though is that you must cut the umbilical cord at some point. If you continue to treat them like children, they will act like children. They will not learn to spread their wings. And no one else said that learning to fly was easy.

What’s not talked about in this process is that it’s important to grieve the loss of the parent-child relationship that existed while they lived in your house. Once they’re out of the house, the relationship changes. The roles shift. The rules remain, but now they have the choice to live in your house or not. And you also have the choice of allowing them to live in your house not. Ultimately, your duty as a parent were to last upon their graduation from high school. Beyond that, you help them transition to where they need to be so they can launch into independence on their own.

The stages of grief — denial, anger, depression, bargaining, acceptance, and finding meaning are all important to work through. You may be happy they’re launching! Or maybe you’re devastated and can’t imagine life without them in the house. Either situation, grief has a funny way of showing up. Take the time to see a Therapist near you who focuses on grief and loss. You’ll thank me later for it.

For anyone looking for additional resources around mental health, substance abuse, college transition coaching, or parent resources you can find them on: or follow @lilleyconsulting, or

Joanna Lilley, MA, NCC

Written by

Therapeutic Educational Consultant, Young Adult Treatment Specialist, Mental Health Advocate, and Female Entrepreneur. Saving one young adult at a time!

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