After 18 Years, I’ve Learned I Was Never Doing It Wrong


After 18 Years, I’ve Learned I Was Never Doing It Wrong

Dashing through the aisles at Target on a mission to grab a few more storage bins for packing, I skid my cart to a stop and reach for the Corn Flakes. This deal is too good to pass up! But in the instant just before my eager fingers make contact with the box of my older son’s current favorite cereal, I remember…we don’t need these now.

My son will be leaving for college in six days…four as of this writing…and there’s no need to stock up on his favorite snacks and treats because they’re on sale. I’m still getting my head around this.

In fact, while I’m sure some moms would be buying them anyway to send with their college-bound kiddos, my fledgling adult is so eager to fly and become independent he has insisted that he can buy his own snacks, thank you very much, once he gets to college if he needs them. Never mind that I’m the one with actual experience, having gone off to college and all, and understand how busy and exciting and kind of chaotic the first days on campus can be. But don’t worry fellow mamas, I couldn’t resist buying a couple of boxes of Kind bars to send along.

Yet, this is where I exist now, for the next few days at least. I occupy a tenuous and shrinking space between mom of a teen and mom of an adult(ish) child learning to be on his own. The transition has been happening for months, of course. I’ve written about my joy and excitement around seeing what’s next for my son. Since the decision was made on where he’ll attend college and I could have some stability around that, I have done my level best to ensure this process is about him by sharing in his excitement and addressing his worries and concerns. This is not the time to burden him with any feelings I have about missing him or worrying about him.

And yet…

Here in the final days or even hours before he leaves, the import of every moment we have with him as a family weighs on my heart.

I battle my need for sleep so that I can spend just a little more time with my firstborn. (Not an easy feat as that need for slumber got even worse this week now that I need to leave the house before 7am to get my younger child to high school on time!) I cherish the hour we spent together on his last weekend at home, playing trivia games, helping him pack, watching movies, and just hanging out as he shared his excitement and worries with me and I regret not doing this more even as I realize how lucky I was to have a kid who liked hanging out at home with his family, even before COVID forced him into it.

Even as I’m writing and trying to get to the root of what I’m feeling, I can’t call what I’m experiencing sadness. I’m still excited, but I feel the need to keep it subdued because what kind of a mom is excited to see her kid leave home? I can’t wait to help him get settled in his room and meet his roommate and hear about his first few days on campus. I’m nervous for him, even as a part of me knows how ready he is for this and that he will be fine. I will miss him and the joy and laughter he fills our home with, but I’m also looking forward to seeing how his little brother will grow and mature when he’s no longer in the shadow of big brother every day. There’s a lot of “both and” in this experience.

And, after nearly a year of wondering if I’m doing this letting go thing right, I have finally accepted that there’s not a clear answer.

Every parent preparing to send their kids off to college will have their own unique experience. I can say I’m doing my best. I’ve channeled any worries I have into making sure he’s as ready as he can be. I’ve ordered all the things including a round of last-minute clothes shopping to replace the pants his long legs outgrew over the last few months. I bought even more first aid supplies after a friend who works in the ER at a university hospital sent me a list. I have helped him chase down answers to his questions about parking and pre-arrival COVID testing. I have bitten my tongue when he has told me he didn’t think he’d need a lamp or a rug or a study pillow and decided that maybe he’s right and if he’s wrong, he’ll figure it out. I have simply ignored him and packed a handvac and some cleaning supplies in spite of his protestations because there are some things Mama just knows. And, I haven’t second-guessed any of those choices.

I think finally, after 18 years at this parenting gig, I’ve realized that none of us really knows what we’re doing. It’s all a lot of trial and error but if you can listen to your kid and understand them and their needs – and here’s the hard part – and understand that every kid is different, then you’re on the right path. You’ll develop an intuition about your kids and you can learn to listen to it. And it’s never too late.

I wasted so much time over the years comparing myself to other moms and listening to bad advice from others in order to conform to their expectations of what parenting looks like and wondering if I’m doing any of it right that I think I probably missed out on a lot of the joy I could have experienced as a parent. I’m sure there were times I let my child down by trying to do things in a way that sometimes didn’t fit his needs because I doubted myself. But, I learned. What works for me and mine may not feel right for you. Now, here we are on the cusp of letting my biggest baby bird fly from the nest, I’m okay and I know he is, too even though that voice who wants me to compare myself to other mamas is trying to tell me I’m doing it wrong if I’m not sad. All I have to say to her is that I’m really okay and so is my boy. I’m excited and wistful. But not sad.

That said, I am glad I still have one more in the nest.

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Dawn Downes
Hey, y’all! I’m Dawn – a native Tennessean who could not wait to escape the small town for the big city. After attending a women’s college in Atlanta, I took root there and stayed. One marriage, two homes, two kids, and 25 years later, here I am, back in Tennessee. My husband moved here in January of 2016 to start a new job while our two boys, Brendan (born 2003) and Beckett (born 2006), and I stayed behind to finish the school year and sell our house. We arrived in July 2016 and have been working to make a happy new home here since then. We love living on the North Shore and I am enjoying finding unexpected beauty and little joys throughout our new city. I am also mama to fur babies, Josie the Rhodesian Ridgeback/Lab mix, and Miller, a sweet orange and white tabby cat. I'm into art, movies, music, TV, pop culture, nerdy stuff like Doctor Who and Game of Thrones and I know more than my share about the DC Universe, Pokemon, Minecraft, Battlefield, and all things LEGO thanks to having two boys.


  1. Beautiful! I love how you’re going with the flow of this momentous moment in your family’s life.

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