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The Art of Letting Go

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

By Darcey Gohring

The only way forward was to reclaim the parts of my identity outside of motherhood.

My daughter and I are in the kitchen. She is slicing cucumbers for the salad. I’m stirring a pot of tomato sauce.

“I’ve been thinking,” she says. “Wouldn’t it be so cool if I went to college on the West Coast?”

I take the wooden spoon out of the sauce and tap it on the side of the pot in lieu of a response. She has been chatting away for the last half hour. The conversation flowing the way it does with teenage girls — discursive, jumping from one topic to the next without much to thread it together.

But this comment rattles me in a particular way. Here we are, in her senior year of high school; in a few months, she and her twin brother will be leaving for college.

“Well, don’t you think that would be cool?” she asks again.


I had a friend growing up whose mother’s entire identity was being a mom. Her hobbies were her children’s hobbies. On holidays, if each of her kids wanted a different dessert, she indulged them all. Instead of going out with friends or even her husband, she took her children out for dinners or otherwise cooked elaborate meals for them and their friends.

There were times when I envied the idea of being the center of someone’s world. It wasn’t until after the first few years of college that I started to imagine the weight of what having that kind of mother must feel like.

This friend of mine was the last one to leave the nest. Without her, the mother was lost. Not only was my friend trying to adjust to being on her own for the first time, she had to help her mother through it, too. How was she supposed to embrace a new life when her mother kept pulling her back into the old one?

My mother divorced my father when I was just a toddler. She raised me and my two older sisters on her own. Before I was finished with grade school, she went from housewife to career woman out of necessity, during a time when a working woman didn’t tell her boss she had a kid, let alone leave early to watch a game or attend a recital.

Maybe my mom wasn’t waiting for me after school with a plate of cookies, but I never felt like she loved me any less than the moms who were. There were times when it was difficult, but I also never felt like it was my responsibility to give her life a purpose. Being a mom was a big part of who she was, but she had a strong identity outside of the role, too.

How was she supposed to embrace a new life when her mother kept pulling her back into the old one?

Over the years, I felt proud of my mom as she became more successful. By the time I was a senior in high school, she was traveling the world for work. She would regale us with tales of far-off places and being immersed in different cultures. I found these stories inspiring.

I’m sure my mom felt sadness when I set off for college in 1992 (I was also the last child to leave the house) but she certainly wasn’t sitting at home moping about it. She was getting on with things, just as she expected me to.

I became a mother in 2003. What I hadn’t accounted for was not just the overwhelming love I felt, but also the abiding sense of responsibility that comes with motherhood.

Before I gave birth (and without a second thought) I left my job as a magazine editor and went on full bed rest after some pregnancy complications threatened early labor. When the twins were born a month early with terrible reflux, I fed them an ounce of milk at a time every two hours around the clock for months. I gave all of myself to them for the first few years and I don’t regret a moment of it.

It wasn’t until the day I dropped them off at kindergarten that I was hit with the first major blow. I hadn’t worked since the twins were born and stayed home solely to take care of them. I volunteered so much at their preschool that we were barely apart for more than a few hours at a time.

The intensity of the pain I felt seeing them walk away from the car was an order of magnitude greater than the first time I got my heart broken. It was raw and intense, and all-encompassing.

I could hardly stand seeing their little backpacks bobbing away as they held the teacher’s hand. I sat in the parking lot for twenty minutes pathetically crying, vividly imagining how much worse it would be someday when they both left for college at the same time. If this was my reaction to kindergarten, how the hell would I survive that?

I soon realized that the only way forward was to reclaim the parts of my identity outside of motherhood. It was a circuitous route, and often very messy. It was laden with guilt and pressure and judgment — most of it self-inflicted. As far as I’m concerned, anyone doing it well is a master.

I know moms who have discovered new meaning in their careers. Others in new interests — knitting, yoga, painting, and volunteering. I was momentarily redeemed by running, hiking, cooking, travel, and editorial jobs. But when I started writing a book two years ago, I knew that this was different.

The intensity of the pain I felt seeing them walk away from the car at the drop-off line was an order of magnitude greater than the first time I got my heart broken.

I could feel this new writing practice awaken parts of my brain that had been dormant. I have been writing professionally for twenty-five years, but the book was a new animal. As any author will tell you, even when you aren’t physically writing, you are always thinking about it. Days went by when I was so engrossed I could think of nothing else. Many times, I worked from seven in the morning until midnight, stopping only to hastily change a load of laundry or make what was, admittedly, a half-ass dinner.

Was it fair to dedicate so much time to something that might not be a commercial success? The answer seemed immaterial.

Different kinds of changes also started to take shape. My son began waking himself up and going to practice on his own, without my screaming upstairs. My daughter scheduled an appointment with her guidance counselor before I even knew we needed to. I started finding them both in the kitchen at lunchtime happily chatting while they made their own sandwiches.

What was happening here? Not only had they assumed these roles, they also weren’t complaining about it. In fact, at seventeen, they were seemingly hungry for more freedom and embracing their independence.


My daughter is standing in the kitchen, still waiting for a response. I look at her, brimming with excitement about all the possibilities that lie ahead.

She is her own person now and what she wants isn’t advice. She wants me to say, “Yes, you can do this.” Whatever this might be.

I flash a smile back to her.

“You are going to do great wherever you end up,” I say.

And I know that I will, too — no matter how hard it is to let her go.


Darcey Gohring is a freelance writer based outside New York City. She specializes in human interest, home, and lifestyle content. She is a contributing author to the anthology book, Corona City: Voices From an Epicenter, and recently completed her first novel entitled The Road Home.

Connect with Darcey on Instagram or Twitter to learn more about her work.