The Hardest Part of Parenting Is Hearing “Mom, Your Work Here Is Done”

Recently, my little family attended a beautiful memorial service for my godmother, a woman who had been like a second mother to me, and whose children were my surrogate cousins. The day was full of nostalgia, memories, and reconnecting with people that distance and the pandemic had kept us from. 

Thanks to social media, many of them already knew that my daughter had graduated from college this spring and even more recently had started an exciting job as an admissions counselor for her alma mater and would soon be moving into a new apartment. They were eager to ask her about her future and congratulate her on her achievements and as I watched my confident, funny girl (ok, woman) engage in these conversations, I heard one phrase over and over: “Great job, mom! Your work is done!” 

mom and daughter
Author and daughter. (Katie Collins)


Outwardly I smiled and nodded and jokingly mimed pushing her out of the nest, laughingly saying “That’s right! Fly little bird!” But inwardly something clenched itself around my heart, like a vise. How could my work be done? How could I be let go from a job I was still trying so hard to do correctly?

I remember every time I came up short as a mom

I was flooded by memories of every time I came up short; every time I lost my temper; every time I failed at crafts or homework help; every moment I missed during my single mom days of working two jobs never being fully in one place before racing to the next; every time I made the same boring dinner of the same four meals I am capable of making; every time I tried too hard only to fall on my face; every time I climbed in the car exhausted from a day of work and resentfully began the evening cycle of obligations that choked our calendar leaving me without space to breathe, to think, to be.   

Now all I had was space. The filing cabinets of my brain stood empty, having locked away a jumble of years of important dates and details of academic calendars, back to school nights, move-in dates, orientations, spring breaks, orthodontist appointments, parent’s weekends, performances, class birthday parties, doctor’s visits, wisdom teeth extractions, back-to-school shopping, finals, and prom dress selection. What would fill those drawers now? They rattled with emptiness and silence, mocking me. And for the first time in 22 years, I had no idea what the next year, or two or more would hold. 

My daughter’s on a journey I can’t join her on

As she navigated her first days of her new job, I had offered my daughter unsolicited advice on something or other only to be met with the gentle reply, “mom, this is a trip you can’t take with me.” And she’s right. It’s not. Oh, I can spring for some new “work clothes,” I can put aside some extra pots, pans and dishes she might need for her new apartment, but I’m the bystander on this leg of the race now, cheering her on from the sidelines and watching as her calendar fills with meetings and business trips, and social events and a life lived as it should be – separate from me. This is, after all, the goal, right? Right?   

And so, I watch. I watch as she signs a lease, arranges for utilities and insurance and furniture and Wi-Fi. And I listen. I listen as she explains how she and her friend will set up their new place, what grocery stores are nearby, what restaurants, what the neighborhood is like, how long her commute to the office will be. My job (as I had been told) was done. 

And so, newly unemployed, I walk, I exercise, swim, write, dive into work, watch tv, go out to eat, play games, laugh. And inside I wonder what job I will ever find that was as hard, as fun, as beautiful, as complicated and as rewarding as the one I’d just lost. And then, as if on cue, the text or the call comes asking for help with “just one more thing,” perhaps to decode a cable bill, or reassure her that she won’t always feel so new and green at work or offer advice on a great deal on a kitchen table. 

I realize that while it may not be full-time anymore, I’ll never truly be ‘done’ with the work of being her mom. It’s a job I’m lucky to have. 

More Great Reading:

I Miss My Daughter and Also Miss Her (Our) College Campus

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