They’re 18 and Suddenly I’m Supposed to Let Them Go?

My children (ages 19 and 21) get to make their own decisions—as long as I agree with them. Yes, I said it, and I’m not proud of it. I never intended to be the pushy mom stifling my children’s individualism or creating a dynamic where, for fear of judgement, they wouldn’t talk to me.

After managing their physical, emotional, and fiscal health since birth, their eighteenth birthday pops up and suddenly they get to reign over themselves, and I legally lose access to their lives? Was that my clue to let go?

Who do I contact about making that legal age thing twenty-five?

Five ways I’m helping my teens become more independent. (Shutterstock: AJR_photo)

Suddenly they are 18 and ready to be independent?

Overnight, my babies were no longer deemed children, but they didn’t have the experience they needed to handle life’s challenges. That might be my fault, but am I the only parent who worried about the grave consequences my kids will suffer if they fail at something?

I do things for them. Maybe too many things. I know it’s time to treat them more like adults, but it’s hard. Very hard. So, like toilet training (the first developmental milestone I couldn’t physically do for my child), I’m approaching my children’s journey to independence in baby steps.

Five ways I’m helping my teens become more independent

1. Don’t call them (they’ll call you) 

When I sent them off to college, I boldly told my kids, “If you want to talk, call me. I will not call you unless I need to tell you something important.” It was my first step at “letting go” (although we track each other on Find My iPhone because looking at their sweet faces on a map makes me smile).

I’m fortunate. They both call at least a few times a week, not because they need something, but to say hello. I stop anything I’m doing and lunge for the phone when they call. I probably always will.

2. Just Listen 

I’ve learned (because she told me) that my daughter doesn’t always want me to solve her problems or give my opinion. Sometimes, she just wants to rant about the drama in her life and needs someone to listen and doesn’t need answers or judgements.

I think because I’ve listened, now she calls often asking for my advice. I’m learning to be happy when she asks and not mind when she doesn’t follow it.

3. Offer support, not judgment

While texting with my son about topics and deadlines for law school applications (I’m an essay coach so that’s not getting overly involved) I wrote, “…and then we can apply later today?” Yes, I said “we.” With “letting go” on my mind, I quickly edited the text to say “you,” and I sat with the heavy realization that there should be no “we” in this process.

Still, a week later, when talking about the two schools he had gotten accepted to so far, I asserted that the choice was obvious. When he said he didn’t think so, I explained why one school was better than the other. But again later, when he said it was clear what choice he should make, his voice hinted at something I didn’t like. Resentment? Annoyance? Disappointment?

I apologized and said I would support any decision he made. In a tone of voice that told me I need not have bothered, he said, “It’s fine, mom, I understand, but I still want to visit ‘X’ (the state where the other school is) someday.” It felt like a win for both of us.

4. Ask questions (the right ones, and not too many) 

As they navigate their world of studying, laundry, feeding themselves, social drama, etc. I know barraging them with questions about how that’s going will add stress to their lives. While I’m eager to ask questions about grades and their friends and what they’re eating (I miss knowing every morsel that goes into their bodies), I wait until they bring these topics up.

Then I ask different questions to gauge their well-being. “What do/don’t you like about that class?” “What did you buy at the grocery store?” “How was that party last weekend?” I don’t expect them to tell me everything, but I think the more I ask, the less I’ll get. I do my best to balance my questions, so they know I’m interested, but they should also know it’s okay to not share every detail of their lives with their mother.

5. Guide. Don’t do. 

I am neither a “helicopter” nor a “tough love” parent. As evidence against my self-titled “middle of the road” parenting style, my husband would submit the fact that during my son’s freshman year I had a text thread going with the president of his fraternity regarding various issues I wanted resolved.

Then, after his junior year, I worked for nine months with the management company of his apartment complex to squash erroneous move out fees. But I’ve made progress.

This year my son manages all his bills (I don’t even look to check that they’re paid). When my daughter got her first speeding ticket, I counseled her on how to pay for it and sign up for driving school so the ticket wouldn’t affect her license or insurance.

When she asked if I could just do the online course for her (joking, I think?) I gave her a quick emphatic “no.” For safety or finances, I may tell them what to do, but only with the goal of them understanding what I did so that the next time, they can do it themselves.

It’s been almost two years since both kids left our home. I’m practicing asking first if they want my help before jumping in and handling something just because I can. Standing aside and letting them figure things out for themselves comes with a rollercoaster of emotions I believe every caring parent will experience as long as they are a parent.

I’m thrilled to be on the ride.

More Great Reading:

Landing the Helicopter: 10 Ways I’ve Let My College Daughter “Adult”

About Sheryl Zedeck Katz

Sheryl Zedeck Katz is an attorney who spent most of her career working as a human resource consultant in the banking industry. Counseling and managing people provided her with a unique insight into interpersonal relationships and she focuses her writing on the role familial relationships play during difficult times.

She has contributed to,, and She writes a blog highlighting thought-provoking lines from published literature called One Great Line and coaches high school and college students on their application essays.

Read more posts by Sheryl

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