Monday, May 22, 2023

Ask Aunt Dorcas: Letting Adult Children Go

Dear Aunt Dorcas,

I have 6 children, and they are very much like you have described yours - hard-working, education and career-seeking.

And now, my second oldest daughter, age 19, just got a job offer that will take her about 9 hours from our home in South Florida. It’s definitely what she wants to do and I’m so happy for her, but I’m really struggling with this. She will be leaving the only home she’s ever lived in - I brought her home from the hospital to this home. All the rest still live here, and I feel like there will be a hole that I won’t be able to fill once she’s gone. Many tears, so much sadness on my part, but I won’t show it to her because that would be wrong to do I think.

Can you give me any advice that might make this time easier for me? I would appreciate it so much. This has just been so hard for me.

Thank you and God bless you richly.


After a visit home, Amy navigates the security line at PDX on her way back to Thailand.
Not pictured: Aunt Dorcas crying.

Dear Heidi,

My heart goes out to you. Every mom reading this, if she has any empathy at all, is feeling for you as well.

I have many thoughts on this subject, and I may wander around for a while here, spelling them out.

For our women’s Sunday school class, I’ve been teaching about how Jesus related to different women. Last week, I looked at how Jesus and his mother related to each other. It’s a fascinating study.

Mary’s experience as a mom was both unique and universal. Carrying the Messiah was a once-in-history event, of course. So was the virgin birth. A few other women had an angel show up and announce a forthcoming pregnancy, but no prophecy was quite like the one Gabriel gave Mary. “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

Can you imagine?

Yet, despite this incredible beginning, Mary’s story as a mother is also universal. She is all of us, every mom, down through history.

1. She was deeply invested in her child.

2. Her child had a destiny and calling apart from hers.

3. It hurt to see her child moving away from her to do what he needed to do.

4. Her child’s calling was more important than her feelings.

So many times, I’ve circled back to Mary’s experiences. For example, she “kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.”

That is all of us moms, watching silently, drawing conclusions, seeing progress, lying awake and thinking, praying for what we believe in but cannot yet see.

The episode at the wedding in Cana when they ran out of wine--that has a universal thread as well. Does anyone else see this story playing out like a movie in their minds? Do others find it as funny as I do? Mary hears about the problem—there is no more wine! Well! Oh my, we can’t have that! We sense the wheels turning in her head—she knows just what to do! Off she goes, weaving through the crowd, and nothing is stopping her. Jesus is having a deep conversation with his buddies, and Mary breaks right into the middle of it. “Jesus! We need you! There’s no more wine, and you have what it takes to make this desperate situation all better!”

He doesn’t leap to his feet with an eager, “Great idea, Mom! Thanks for letting me know!”


We see him, collecting his thoughts after being interrupted mid-paragraph, and his friends all looking at Mary, resenting the intrusion. “Why do you involve me?” Jesus says.

Well. She doesn’t answer that, knowing good and well that she’s said enough and it’s time to be quiet, so she leaves it at that and slips away.

She also knows very well that he’s going to indulge her and save the day, because he's so nice, so she pulls the servants aside and whispers, “Do whatever he tells you.”

He saves the day in quiet but spectacular fashion. Of course he does.

What mom hasn’t been there? Here is a need, and we know exactly what ought to be done, and by whom. Off we go to find our adult child, the one who amazes us with their talents and abilities, so far beyond ours. “Katie! They need a teacher at Elliott Prairie this fall!” “Jonathan! They need more guys for the community choir!” “Amanda! We need someone to decorate for the baby shower!”

Then, with full confidence in their compliance, we tell the social committee that they can count on Amanda to do the decorations, we’re sure of it.

Meanwhile, our talented children may or may not be ok with us offering their services, and we may or may not have a good idea of how God is calling them to serve.

And then, of course, we also relate to Simeon’s terrible prophecy to Mary.  “A sword will pierce your soul.”

When did it begin, the sharp blade breaking the skin? Maybe with the frantic search for the twelve-year-old Jesus. And then the shocking moment when Mary didn’t have a frightened child run to her arms for comfort, as she probably expected, but instead had a determined young man tell her firmly that she didn’t need to be so upset because, after all, he was doing his Father’s bidding.

His destiny was more important than her feelings.

Surely nothing was ever as painful, sharp, or deep as the sword in Mary’s soul when she stood watching as Jesus was crucified. All the predictions, all the miraculous moments, all the things she had stored up in her heart must have ricocheted in her mind as she watched this kind and loving son suffer beyond imagination.

Two thousand years later we normal moms, imperfect and overwhelmed yet loving our imperfect offspring more than life and breath, we remember the unique pain Mary endured and we sense that the prophecy was not only for her.

It is for all of us. Our child’s destiny calls, their purpose begins its fulfilment, and a sword pierces our souls. God’s purpose for them is more important than our feelings.

When our children leave home, eager and excited about their future, we wave wildly until the car rounds the last curves and disappears from view. We hug our children at the airport and watch as they disappear into the security lines.

Then we sit down with a cup of tea and cry because the sword is deep in our souls and the pain is crushing us.

It is right that they go, and we wouldn’t want them to stay home, frustrated and bound by our wishes, but that doesn’t make it hurt any less.

I write here mostly about the physical leaving and moving out, but of course this is about any kind of growing up and pursuing a life separate from yours.

To you who are doing this for the first time, I hate to break it to you, but you are going to say goodbye and send them forth many times. The piercing sword is the price of your love, your investment, your hard work bearing fruit.

It’s right and good. It hurts.

Your feelings are valid, and they matter, but not enough to drag your child back to you.

What do you do now?

Here are my thoughts and advice, born of endless launchings and goodbyes.

1. Cry just enough in the airport or when they pack the car to move out so they know you’ll miss them but not so much that they feel guilty for leaving or like they need to rescue you. They need to feel loved and missed but also free to seek their fortune.

2. Remember that it will be truly awful while they’re in transit. You will imagine hijackings, icy roads, danger at every turn, sickness, lost passports, armed predators, flat tires. Let it be awful. Don’t try to make it better. Sit down with a pot of tea and a flannel blanket and a box of tissues. Cry a lot.

3. Also remember that it will get better after they arrive. Once they’re at the college dorm or the Nairobi airport or the new apartment, you will get a text or email or call, and suddenly you will be able to breathe again. Wash the teapot and put the flannel blanket away, but keep the Kleenexes close. I didn’t say you’d be all better, only that a weight will come off.

4. Explain to the children who are still at home that they need to indulge you for a little while. This is what moms are like when their children leave. It’s normal. You don’t love them any less than Katie or Sam who just moved out, and you will do the same when they go. They can hug you if they want, but it isn’t theirs to fix. Laugh a bit through your tears. Moms are silly like this, and it’s ok.

5. Find someone to talk to. My husband doesn’t miss the kids in the same way that I do, and it puts a burden on him if I expect him to feel exactly what I’m feeling. It’s good to find another mom who’s been through the same letting go. God bless the mom friends who listen and empathize. 

6. Arrange a regular time to talk. A young person living an exciting new life sometimes has a hard time remembering to stay in touch. Give them time to figure out their schedule, then plan a weekly or monthly phone or FaceTime call. Our daughter Jenny in Virginia doesn’t have a regular time to call, exactly, but she often calls when she’s walking home at the end of the day, and I hear a familiar recorded voice at the crosswalks saying “Wait!” It’s an odd thing to find comforting, but I do.

 Amy, who lives in Thailand, connects with me by WhatsApp video call on her Sunday mornings and my Saturday afternoons. I can’t explain what those calls do for me. She bakes her Sunday potluck food while we talk or kills a big spider. I hear the neighbors’ chickens and they also comfort me in an odd way.

7. I was going to say “pray a lot,” but of course you already do and always will. Even if you hear disturbing reports of your faraway child, remember that God is there with them and he cares about them even more than you do. He has a good purpose for them, and a solid plan. Believe it even when no one else does. Have faith--it's the evidence of things not yet seen.

8. If you can, get your child to commit to a tentative plan for coming home for Christmas or summer break or furlough. It will help a lot if you have an idea of when you’ll see them again, even if it’s a long time off.

9. Go visit them. When my children are far away, I have this urge to see them in their current environment. To do this, we have traveled to Jamaica, Thailand, Virginia, Colorado, Houston, Washington DC, Toronto, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, and probably other places besides. There’s nothing quite like seeing where your child is living, where they work, and who they interact with. You need to drive the roads they drive, worship where they go to church, feel the wind and heat and cold, and meet the people who invest in them. After you’re home, you’ll be able to picture what they’re doing and where they’re going. It will ease the sting of missing them.

10. Face the question, “Who am I now?” Many of us have poured our adult lives into our families, and it shakes our foundations to have them grow up and move on. You are still you, only older and wiser. God has a purpose for this stage, and you need to seek it out. As your responsibilities lessen, it’s ok to pursue your interests and have fun. Go hiking, grow dahlias, learn to paint with watercolors. Invest your time in ministry you couldn’t do when you were raising a family: lead a Bible study, host guests, volunteer at an elementary school. Of course it’s scary. Do it anyhow. Your adult children will be better able to pursue their calling if they know you’re busy and occupied.

11. Get professional help if you can’t function. Eventually, you should be able to enjoy life again, even if you miss your children. Sometimes, instead of normal sadness, moms experience a debilitating grief so deep they can’t function for a long time. It can indicate that the pain of your child leaving is connected to a deeper pain from long ago that was never examined or healed. Or maybe your children distracted you from an unhealthy marriage, and now you are forced to face it. Or you are terrified of the future and feel like you’re worthless if you’re not a mom.

There is help available. Google “counselors near me,” or ask around for recommendations. This is probably more than a friend and a pot of tea can fix.

Uncle Paul and Aunt Dorcas visited their kids in Texas

After the excruciating pain of watching the crucifixion, Mary saw the resurrected Jesus. What was it like, I wonder, to see God’s redemptive purpose fulfilled? She had another goodbye, not long after, when Jesus ascended to Heaven, and Mary knew she wouldn’t see Him again on earth. She lived out her days with the apostle John, who would have loved Jesus like she did, only without the unique aspect of being his mom. I like to think that she and John made tea and told stories about Jesus and discussed all the things that Mary had kept and pondered in her heart, all those years.

Someday, I hope we can sit down with Mary and talk about all the things that only a mom understands—the love, the destiny, the letting go, the piercing sword, and the ultimate redemption of their sacrifice and ours.


  1. Thank you for these comforting words! My oldest daughter moved from farming country to the bustling city of Boston at the tender age of 18. Letting her follow God's will for her life was challenging but has been wonderful to observe

    1. 18 feels very young to move to the big city! Bless you for letting her go.

  2. Wow this has me crying so much. You said it all so perfectly. Resonated in my soul. Thank you.

  3. Oh the stories, if one were to tell! Thank you.

    1. I think many moms could relate to your stories.

  4. Wonderful counsel. I will add that moms can feel successful and grateful as our children grow up and leave the nest. We raised a human being to be independent and a contributing member of society! Sometimes an adult child comes back for a season to regroup, get their feet under them after a failed venture, etc. We enjoy them while they're with us, then we'll grieve again when they leave. Our five children are my favorite friends, I've learned so much from them. Letting them go, trusting them in their choices helps them appreciate all you taught them.

  5. Dorcas thank you so much for your encouraging words, it made me cry but not as much for our daughter and her husband she met in the DR and our grandson! This all happened about 6 years ago when our first daughter met and married a young man in the DR when we let her go help a friend and her family with pre school. Well they got married and moved back too the US with their 2 chilren. But someone else was pursuing her sister so to make a long story short she ended up getting married and now they with our almost 1 year old grandson live there. I have made about 11 trips down there in 5 years. Yes we also have whattsapp which helps alot and belive me lots of prayers and tears, hellos and goodbyes! We also have a Prodigal son which brings me the most tears he will be 30 this year and lives close. I can't imagine how we would make it without the Lord!! That's been our lives for awhile! I also thank God for a supportive husband! We know what it's like to let go!!

    PS. I remember you and your family in Canada! I was at NYP Ministry as well!

    1. 11 trips in 5 years! Clearly you are a devoted mom and grandma, and I bless you for it.

  6. Oh me, oh my. As a mom experiencing these things for the first time in the past year, I love all of this so very much!!

  7. Thank you, Dorcas! So many wise words. Point #5 especially is good for me to know.
    Our daughter & husband and their 5 children live in a foreign country, on the other side of the globe. I'm proud of them for being willing to live far away from friends and family to serve God but it's so hard sometimes!

    1. I know what it's like to have a daughter overseas, but I'm sure it's something entirely different to have grandchildren so far away.

  8. We moms need to hear this! My mom didn't let on at all that she was sad about it or would miss me when I left home to get married. That hurt! Such good advice to let your child know you are sad, but not to dump it all on them! I love your thoughts about Mary...

  9. I think you are a very nice mom.

  10. Every time another of your six receives an academic degree, it affirms the wisdom and love of your father, Amos Yoder, when he decided to rear his offspring as Mennonites. He gave wings to all of his descendants. (The wings are cleverly folded under the medieval robes of graduating scholars, ready for flight.)

  11. On giving your children roots and wings... The hardest to do is the wings!