Letting Go of First Borns

letting go of first borns Angela Walker I Am A Triangle

I just dropped off my first born son at university. For the weeks and months leading up to this day I spoke to friends, both expat and “muggles” about their experience of letting go of first borns. I wanted to be prepared and allow the process to unfold naturally and be present to the unique journey that we were both about to embark on. This was huge. A massive moment to mark the end of his childhood and an enormous feather in my motherhood cap. It wasn’t just that he was going to university – that was his choice, of course – but that he was leaving home and therefore had officially been raised.

My work was done. 

I needed to prepare myself.

After talking to as many people as possible who had already been through this there were definitely patterns as my friends reflected on their own uni drop off experiences,

“It’s so hard.”

“You’re really going to miss him.”

“I didn’t know what to do with myself.”

“I had nightmares.”

“We talked by phone every day for months.”

“You just have to let him go.”

“I cried all the way back to the hotel.”

All these scenarios were running around in my head, but I didn’t feel worried or nervous at all. What I felt was excitement for him as he turned the page to a brand new chapter in his life, one that I had never been encouraged to follow. There was also a sense of relief, that my work raising this young man was complete, and I’d done a pretty good job (even if I do say so myself!) and I too was entering into a brand new chapter. I didn’t say a word as my friends shared their stories and warnings. I just listened and presumed the emotions would hit me in the moment.

But they didn’t.

I didn’t feel a pang of sadness the way I did when he weaned himself from breastfeeding sooner than I had expected him to.

Tears didn’t well up in my eyes the way they did when I dropped him off at school for the first time in 4th grade.

I didn’t sniffle into a tissue the way I did when he first performed on stage in front of the whole school.

The time it took us to drop him off – from the second we drove onto campus to the second we drove off – was 45 minutes. It was so much easier than I could ever have imagined?


Maybe I’m a horrible mother?

Nah… that’s not it!

Was I hiding my feelings?

Nope… I was totally open and honest throughout the entire process.

Perhaps my son and I were glad to be rid of each other?

Absolutely not, we had the best time together over the past 19 years.

The reason is I had already let him go, years before.

Letting go of first borns

People ask me all the time about how I managed to raise children overseas, moving, on average, every two to three years. How I managed to home educate my children on top of all the international moves. How I managed to repatriate during their teenage years when the entire family was opposed to my decision to move back home after 30 years of being overseas.

I always answer these questions as honestly as I can but I’ve never really reflected deeply on what I did, from birth to uni, until now.

Not one to give advice – especially parenting advice – or try to convince people to do things this way or that. I am a firm believer that one size does not fit all, and if I do offer any words of wisdom it is to always, always follow your gut after having healed your own wounds.  The reason it’s so important for you to heal your own past traumas is that our own fears often show up as a knot in the gut, can be totally misread and we end up over compensating for what we feel we missed out on, or worse; operating as a parent from a place of fear.

So, today I’m writing to share with you the phases that we went through from birth to uni.

Interestingly, considering this wonderful I Am A Triangle Community, my approach to preparing my children had 3 distinct phases, but first, we need to know what we are aiming for. The question I asked myself when I took on the enormous responsibility of raising these tiny human beings was; what is your intention here? For me the answer was clear;  INDEPENDENCE. From the very beginning my intention was to raise adults who could take care of themselves, well. That they had the tools and confidence to reach their own potential. That they knew that they were loved unconditionally and that love is all around them – if they chose to look for it. That they were connected to their authentic selves and stayed true to the essence of who they really are. And that they understood that they were the designers of their own destiny, not me, not the government, not their boss, but themselves.


So, here is what we did:

The Foundation Phase

This is the base of the triangle, the foundation. And the most important part of the whole process. This is where I recommend putting all your parental energy. The benefits from taking the first seven years of your child’s life and committing to nurture and development is unfathomable. This is the time when their brains are on download mode; where they absorb everything that is going on around them. Not only what they see and hear, but also what they feel and sense. And all of this information goes directly to their subconscious mind, without filter of what’s right or wrong, true or not. It’s absorbed. The words we, and others, put into the minds of our young children become their inner voices later on in life. It’s worth helping them filter the input in this phase.The brain is developing at lightning speed in the first few years, this is not the time to learn to read or how to handle a bully, it’s the time for neurodevelopment and to experience the world in a safe and nurturing way. The best thing we can do for our children during this phase is to give them a sense of stability while allowing them the freedom to explore and move. Seeing, smelling, tasting, crawling, hearing, touching, spinning, balancing, anything that gets the body moving (which helps integrate both sides of the brain) and offers new experiences (which creates neural pathways).As we were moving, on average every two to three years, I decided to home educate. That meant I was able to offer the boys rich and diverse experiences on a daily basis. I could help them learn to see the connections between what we were reading about (and we read a lot) and what the world was showing us. It didn’t mean that I kept them busy from morning till night; lazy, boring, unplanned time was an absolute must and where I learned the most about their personalities. It also didn’t mean that I only fed them information; their views and opinions taught me much more than mine taught them.

This phase is very different when approached as an expat as there are many elements missing; grandparents, life long friends, roots, parent’s sense of stability, stress levels and so much more.  It also adds many experiences that are not available to non-expats; extensive travel, introduction to many people from different walks of life, diverse cultures, multiple languages and much more.

Stability is so very important for the developing child and as expats we often have to find different ways to help our children feel stable and secure. My husband was in the hotel business which meant he wasn’t around much, in fact, he left to start a new job in a new country just one month after our 1st son was born. I was left in a hotel room in a country we had been in for 9 months, with a tiny baby trying to figure out the whole first time mum deal all by myself. This was when I realised that I was the ONLY stable thing in my child’s life. As far as stability went for my boys, I was it.

I was heavily criticised for my approach to this phase as some saw it as being an over protective parent, too attached or over compensating, but I didn’t budge. In this phase my children’s needs were met; not negotiated, not manipulated and most certainly not ignored.

The question in this phase that I asked as I observed my children develop was: “Who are you?” I was determined to allow them to teach me who they were, rather than squeeze them into a predetermined mould. Phase 1 lasted for nine whole years for my first born and years for my second. As my ultimate goal was independence I felt that a strong and secure base was key, and once they had that, it was time for them to start making their own decisions. It was important for me that they decide if and when they went school. My eldest, the one who just zipped off to uni, decided he wanted to try school in 4th grade. He was confident, compassionate and had a really strong sense of self, taking to school like a duck to water.

The Letting Go Phase 

He was about 9 years old when he went to school for the first time, and he was ready. I see this phase as me handing over certain responsibilities of raising my child to other people. Yes, I said “raising” because what goes on in a school classroom is not just about academics, there’s a whole lot more education going on; social, community, authority, hierarchy etc. There are defiantly pros and cons to this type of learning environment, especially in an international school where cultural diversity and high teacher and student turnover are thrown into the mix. But again, I was confident that we had built a very strong foundation, so this phase really was our letting go. I wasn’t in charge anymore, and that was a good thing. The boys would come home from school and tell me things that had happened and we’d talk about them. I’d ask them what they thought about the situation and how they planned to handle it. I offered ideas and suggestions and then stepped back and allowed them to lead.Oh, don’t get me wrong, I moved in when necessary, and I was on high alert and very involved in the school, but generally, day to day stuff, they handled themselves.  When they came home and moaned, “I don’t want to do my homework.” I shrugged and replied, “Then don’t do it.”

They knew that they were responsible for their education from the very beginning and they never missed a beat, because it came from them.This phase was again a challenge for me because there were so many more opinions and judgements. I was criticised for the way I handled things. To some I was too involved and others didn’t understand why I gave the boys so many choices, or talked to them about certain things. The vice principle of the school once told me I was “an irresponsible parent.” It was this phase were I had to work very hard on really trusting my gut and realised, once and for all, that other people’s opinions are non of my business.

The Freedom Phase

When we moved back to my home country in 2013, I made a conscious decision to step back from the whole school mum scene. I only ever went into school when there was a parent meeting or school performance to attend. Everything was on their shoulders. This phase was about me trusting them. I never understood parents who tried to control and closely monitor their children all the way through high school and then expected them to ‘grow up’ as soon as they left home or turned 18. My expectations of them to show me how capable they were was the theme of phase 3.  I needed to know that they could handle the challenges that were thrown at them and to know when to ask for help. I needed to know that they could communicate openly and honestly. I needed to know that when I did drop them off at university, I wouldn’t have to worry about them.

And I don’t.

Author: Angela

Angela was born and raised in Liverpool, England and began her expat journey at the age of 17. She has lived in a total of 11 different countries in just under 30 years.

UK | Germany | USA | S. Korea | Venezuela | Taiwan | India | Malaysia | Vietnam | Malaysia | Tahiti | Malaysia | Jordan | UK

On her travels Angela came across her passion and purpose in education, particularly in understanding how we learn. She has an insatiable appetite for helping people of all ages unlock their unique potential. This passion led her to attain a number of diplomas and certificates in various nuero-developmental methods and healing techniques and ultimately in creating her passion project; Katie’s Readers – a community of volunteers whose aim is to “Scatter the love of learning around the world.” She is also a certified life coach and works primarily with {expatriate} mothers, youth and clients who work directly with children.

Angela recently returned to Liverpool, coming full circle to finally lay down roots while continuing to follow her own passions and inspiring others to do the same!

Comments 3

  1. Love love love this …..agree with you 100%
    Going with your gut…..humans have survived thousands of years going by not books or advice ….just their gut and all of us have to learn an essential skill by hopefully only making small mistakes…then seeing how to rectify /reinforce not repeat them sometimes with guidance and sometimes being allowed to figure the way forward out
    My Mum said to my Dad when I was 1.5 and wanted to climb a slide…..Let her try as she is determined and watch to see what she does …if she falls she will listen next time as she will realise it hurts …scary but true ????

  2. Ps …still annoying when you don’t hear from them for a clue of weeks when u need an answer to something ….3 weeks of asking Edward number 2 son for something important….ending up saying….if u don’t respond to this get the kettle on sunbeam as I am in the car on my way up the M6 from Wales to Manchester…..almost instantaneous response to that one ????????????????????

    1. “Let her try” I LOVE that Alison. It’s not easy, we all want to protect our children from all sorts of pains and challenges, forgetting, of course, that the side effect of trauma (small or large) is resilience.
      I hope Edward had some biscuits to offer you with your cuppa!

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