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Natural Awakenings Fairfield & Southern Litchfield Counties

How To Say Goodbye: When Children Are Ready to Leave the Nest

Sep 30, 2022 09:30AM ● By Liz Jorgensen
My youngest daughter, Sarah, and I were arguing in the car (or more accurately she was telling me how wrong I was about many pieces of pre-college advice I was offering, unsolicited, of course) when she put one of her playlists on the radio, blasting. The second song to play was “Father and Son” by Cat Stevens, and I felt a twinge of the sadness I had been feeling the last few weeks anticipating her launch to college.

Unexpectedly, she started to sing the son’s part of the song, which is a duet between a father and son: “How can I try to explain? When I do he turns away again. It’s always been the same old story…” and she squeezed the top of my hand. With a little teariness, I sang the father’s part by heart, and we had one of those eternal moments of connection around one of my favorite songs—one that I didn’t even know she loved.

In case there is a stray reader who isn’t remembering the lyrics (Cat was big in the late ‘70s after all), a father begs his child to take his time growing up, to live slowly, to be careful, and the son answers with an intense desire to leave home quickly and find his own way. “…From the moment I could talk, I was ordered to listen. Now there’s a way, and I know that I have to go away. I know I have to go.”

The great poignancy of the song is that Cat sings both the father’s wise words and pain at his son leaving and the son’s eager desire to leave home and find his own way with equal compassion and understanding. It is, after all, the greatest irony of raising a child that getting “fired” is a sign that we have succeeded, that our beloved child will be fine without us.
Listening and singing along, I remembered the lesson that I have learned and relearned about 1,000 times in letting go of our older kids. Sarah will need to learn her own lessons from her young adult life experiences, just as I did, no matter how hard I try to gently (or not so subtly) send her warnings, advice or “suggestions”. She will have to say, “No, thank you,” in order to eventually own her growth and choices.

And yet, it is sad. I never had enough time to do all the things I wanted to do with her, all the crafts we could have done, all the pictures I meant to take and frame, the fact that I talked when I should have been quiet, and I was quiet when I might have said the right thing, that I was jealous when her friends and school connections knew much more than I did about her daily life, and I just plain wasn’t ready to hug her goodbye on a hot day in Vermont. 
It was too soon, this college business. It was supposed to take so much longer, and involve so many deep discussions. And yet, it was the same with our older three children. The time for them to not need me as much came much too soon, and it still surprised me even though I not only knew this was coming, but I spend a great deal of my professional life helping others adjust to the same realities.

To those who may have said goodbye recently, please know that the connection with your child is always there, and will deepen, although in a different way. If you can walk the difficult line between being present and letting go, your child will still need you, and always love you.
It is so hard, so unnerving to realize our children have their own paths and we cannot follow them there. As my four children are all “grown and flown” now, I am humbled by the role of luck and circumstance in their safety so far. I have watched them in pain and suffering, I have watched them experience joys and triumphs that had absolutely nothing to do with me.
Your job is not over, but the landscape and many of the rules have forever changed. COVID-19 will pass and another set of circumstances will replace this current crisis and still, the pain of letting them go is the same. I wish the comfort of knowing that if your child is excited to leave for college, you have done a wonderful job, and I hope you can remember my words on the long, tearful drive home.

Liz Jorgensen, director of Insight Counseling, has over 30 years of experience with adult and adolescent psychotherapy and counseling. Connect at 203-431-9726, 
[email protected] or See ad, page 19.

Insight Counseling LLC - 105 Danbury Rd  Ridgefield CT

Insight Counseling, LLC - 105 Danbury Rd , Ridgefield, CT

Liz Jorgensen has 30 year’s experience with adolescent and adult psychotherapy and counseling. She is a nationally recognized expert in counseling, particularly in engaging resistant tee... Read More » 


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