The Complex Grief of Releasing Adult Control

Apr 06, 2023

The most vulnerable release is that of adult control: the belief that we should be able to tell our kids what to do. For some adults, stepping away from control over our kids feels like falling off a cliff.


My son would not go to school. “I don’t want to,” he wailed. "I don't have to!” I felt the words bubbling up in me, wanting to explode onto my child: “YES YOU DO!” But I held them in. Choking on them.

“I feel like you’re forcing me!” that little voice interrupted my explosive thoughts. “You say no forcing in our family!”

My husband turned to me, despair in his eyes. “Can’t it be okay to force a kid every once in a while?” he pleaded, not with me so much as with the world, with our life, with the parenting gods who delivered these magical creatures to our doorstep.


We grieve the loss of our old ideas, the belief that it would be simple; that they would follow our plans without changing every step. That we would be in charge, in control, unquestioned captains of the family ship. That they would be compliant and flexible and understanding and “easy.” All those old dreams of how it would be, when we were good parents to good kids, before we had these real kids to love beyond measure.

Our good, very good, just-right kids, who challenge the parenting norms, flip the standard script, and fling our hearts wide open.

The pang of loss is grief, and it comes in waves, in seasons, in pounding intensity and gentle lapping loss. Yet it is so important to name that we do not grieve these wondrous children, these magic makers. We are grieving ourselves.


The smaller versions of ourselves that come from our past when we believed that remaining in control was the way to safety and success. That controlling our kids would yield that brilliant banner: “Good parent.” A banner to protect against judgment and shame and misunderstanding and pain.


As we grieve, we release. As we release, we grow. As we grow, we emerge, ready to see, respect, love and cherish the children before our eyes. The ones who demand freedom and control. Who expect shared respect. And who gift us the brilliant joy of honest connection.

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