Becoming Obsolete: Parenting Fear or Goal?

It happens to all of us. At some point our children no longer need us to survive. Becoming obsolete as a parent is the ultimate goal, right? We all want our children to grow and thrive and succeed on their own. But for many parents, its also a silent fear. What most parents don’t realize is that it starts happening long before they ever expect it to. That’s what I want to explore today.

The Expectation

Parents know their job is to raise their children as best they can and send them off into the world. That is what its all about. The expectation is that this will happen when they head off for college, approximately 18 years after birth.

That seems like so much time. I mean, its almost two whole decades. And since many moms and dads are in their twenties or thirties when they begin having children, it seems like forever. A whole lifetime, because for them, it practically is.

So there you are, in the hospital, holding your newborn bundle of joy, and picturing how life is going to go for you and this little one. In what seems like a lifetime, you will send a perfectly behaved, well-mannered, responsible, well-rounded, book-smart, street smart, kind and thoughtful adult into the world to do great things. That is the expectation.

The Reality

The reality of becoming obsolete as a parent is that it begins to happen way earlier. Personally, its something I never considered. But these moments keep sneaking up on me.

One day, your sweet newborn will grow into an infant, and no longer need you to rock them to sleep. At some point, your child will no longer need you for nourishment, because they no longer need to nurse. Your sweet baby will grow into a toddler. They will start to explore their independence. They will want to dress themselves, feed themselves, and play by themselves. You will start to become obsolete in a million little ways.

The first time that it really set in for me was earlier this year. My son started ice skating lessons. The first few weeks, he held onto either me or my husband like his life depended on it. Then, as he gained confidence, he began letting go. He still wanted us close, just in case, but he started to venture on his own. A few more weeks passed. I took him on the ice one Saturday morning, and he just skated away. He was off chasing his friends and playing. I stood off to the side of the rink. I was still on the ice, you know, just in case he needed me. He didn’t. Honestly, I could’ve left the country and he wouldn’t have noticed. Standing there alone on that cold rink, watching my little guy off on his own making friends and having fun, I realized it. I was obsolete now. He no longer needed me for ice skating.


The “Feels”

That realization washed over me like a tidal wave. The emotions I felt in the moment ebbed and flowed like the sea. It was an intense moment, perhaps one of the most I’ve experienced thus far.

First there was pride. I was so proud of this little man. He was so brave, and independent, and social, and free. He had a courage I could only dream of. He’d worked so hard to develop the skill to keep up with the other children. Pure parental pride.

Then came the sadness. He was MY little boy. My baby. The only one I had. But he no longer needed me. Since he is my only child, I may have felt this a little more intensely than some. But I am certain all parents feel this to some degree. I was 50 feet away, but I missed him. I missed his little hand in mine. Missed the way he would look for me if he fell, and stretch his arm out for a hand up. These things we gone, and I felt that hole deeply.

The joy and the sadness swirled around me as I realized I was becoming obsolete in that moment.

Letting Go

Now, as much as I wanted at that moment to grab onto my baby boy and hold on forever, I knew I couldn’t. My job as a parent is to do exactly this. Support and help my child get to a place where they can be okay without me. At that moment, I realized I’d done it. I knew I’d gotten at least this one small part of parenting right. That’s when I let go. I turned and slowly skated off the ice, and took my place near the glass with the parents of older children. The other obsolete parents.

It was all right though. I stood there, watching my child have the time of his life, skating and playing with new friends. Letting go was something I didn’t want to do, but something I needed to do.

You’re Never Obsolete

Becoming obsolete as a parent is something that will happen again and again, in a million different ways as your child grows. There is no avoiding it. Its just life. We just need to do the best we can to prepare our children, and let go when its time.

However, I have also come to realize that as a parent, you will never be completely obsolete. Your children will always need you. Maybe not in big ways, but tons of small ways. Think of your own life. If you need advice, help with something, a place to stay, a parenting question answered… who do you want to talk to? I am betting the answer is your parents.

Becoming obsolete is both something that happens, and doesn’t. They outgrow us in many ways, but will always need us in others. Parenting never ends, it just changes with time.

Have you experienced any of these moments with your children? I’d love to hear your stories in the comments.

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About Lisa Wingerter

I'm a 32 year old, married, stay-at-home-mom from the Metro Detroit area

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21 Comments on “Becoming Obsolete: Parenting Fear or Goal?”

  1. I have two young toddlers close in age and try to get my oldest to be a little more independent than he already is and baby the younger one to stretch out the moments. It’s sad when they’re your best friends and they let go leaving you clueless and alone, what do we do with ourselves in that time? I want them to grow up right and I’m not holding back too much on that but I want to keep them close too! Now I know how my mom felt, she still treats me that way LOL

  2. Great post! I have a 2 year old and she is so independent. She’s still a Mama’s girl and i hate seeing her grow up but I’m so proud of her too. Parenthood is a rollercoaster of emotions!

  3. Both! Parenting fear and parenting goal. Sometimes when I teach my daughter how to do something by herself I have a little thought in the back of my head: why am I teaching her this? I want to help her with this forever! But of course I don’t. I celebrate with her when she masters something independently. And I’m there for the things she still needs me for.

  4. Definitely a parenting goal! I see posts in my social media feed from mothers who have to talk to their adult children every day in order to feel “whole.” My oldest is 21 and I hear from her frequently, but I don’t keep score. She’s got a great support network of friends and families. If she needs me, or just wants to talk, she’ll call.

  5. Great post! Despite the fact that I feel like I am still the mother of a toddler, I am, in fact, the mother of a young lady who is only a few months away from turning 18!! I tell her all the time that despite the fact that she is changing constantly, I am not. It’s hard for us moms to keep up with the changes. Having them grow up is bittersweet to be sure!

  6. Such a great message. I have 2 year old twins and I know the day will come where I ACTUALLY.HAVE.TO.LET.THEM.GO. I’m so scared, but I just hope I do it right. Luckily I can still enjoy the upcoming years before that has to happen. Great post!

  7. This was a very interesting article. I’ve got a 2.5 year old who I already feel like I’ve had to do a lot of letting go with. It’s been made easier since I’ve had my second baby as I’ve now got her to clutch onto tightly. I dread to think it will be like when they grow up. The best and worst part of being a parent.

  8. Great post! I haven’t thought about this yet as my little one is still really little. I do feel like time is flying by though!!

  9. Ah! This is making me emotional. I’m at the newborn phase and I don’t ever want him to grow from this stage. Thank you for sharing.

  10. I am still single and not that much aware of the motherhood yet, but I am sure it is one great feeling. I can feel it since my niece is around me the whole time.

  11. This brought tears to my eyes. I have a toddler and a baby, and I’m already experiencing the “letting go” in many ways. My baby just rolled over for the first time, and I cried because he won’t need my help in that way much longer. It’s a small thing…but it still hit me yesterday.

  12. This article says the things we as parents really feel. I went through that with my son. Him not wanting me to drop him off. And even now that he’s in college when he comes home on break, he’s barely even home. But my heart smiles when he calls me for advice. Thank you for this post. It lets me know I’m not alone.

  13. I have 3 and yes there are these moments all the time. I homeschooled for 5 yrs. Last year my kids all started at a charter school (they had a great year) but I was the mess of a Kinder mom X3!!! My oldest moved up to the youth group in church yesterday!!! ah! how can that be???

  14. I cannot even say how much I needed my parents after I was grown and out of the house. I would even say more so than I did before, but that’s just me. I had a lot to learn and I realize now it was best for me to learn these things on my own so I could help other moms who have no idea what they are doing lol 🙂

  15. Personally I fear the thought of my daughter not wanting me anymore in the future. But I guess it’s not that she doesn’t want me when she grows up. It’s just that she needs to spread her wings on her own. I love your post! 🙂

  16. I agree with Michelle, this is more of a goal for me too. Her style is a lot like my mom’s too, which I appreciate as someone who likes space and would rather talk when I have something to say. I’m hoping to be the same way with my kids. I don’t like thinking about becoming obsolete though. That sounds too… final. But I WANT my kids to be able to live without me — and even move away if they want to. If they can do that successfully, then I’ve done my job.

  17. aww this post makes me so sad. I realized today that my 3 year old is becoming so independent and just doesn’t need me the way she used. Which is really great but also makes me sad. Great post.

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