A Letter I’ll Never Send

To my lovely son,

So, my darling, it turns out to be harder than we think to find the right words to say, and the right time to say them. So much is happening for you right now and you have no idea how much we long to be able to help you, at this point in your life when all your instincts – quite rightly – are insisting you push us away and find your own strength. But if I could, these are the things I would tell you:

Most of the truly difficult problems in life arise from personality flaws, not mistakes or unfortunate events. Or perhaps it’s better to say they arise from making the same mistakes and creating the same situations over and over again. Fear the world less than the unresolved parts of you.

We have more choices, always, than we like to admit to ourselves (because it takes a lot of courage to admit this).

Poverty, starvation, long term illness, early death, war, these are disasters worthy of the name. The rest may be called setbacks, disappointments and obstacles. Be careful to treat them accordingly.

The real key to a good life is learning to deal with those disappointments, frustrations and losses.

It is very hard to take full responsibility for oneself. Don’t allow taking responsibility for others to look like a substitute. It isn’t. And try very hard not to give your power away to people you love; this is also trickier than it seems.

Your best qualities will turn out to be, also, your worst ones. Tenacity and loyalty are also stubbornness and wilful blindness. This will trip you up.

Experience changes everything. The difference between imagining something and living it is vast, so try not to judge others or pre-judge yourself.

But remember that language stays the same. We have to make an extra effort to convey the before and after effect, which is why, for instance, the platitudes that your father and I spout still seem fresh and urgent to us. We are attaching experience to our worries that is hard to express.

We know you think you know everything. We know you know nothing. But then, we probably know a great deal less than we think we do. Humility all round would be good here.

We have to learn that our cherished memories of you are not yours, and that our hopes and dreams for you will not match those you hold for yourself. This is the final knot to untie in the long process of letting you go – giving you back your independent past, your surprising self, your unguessable desires. We will need to learn who you are all over again. This is a perennial lesson life offers, as you’ll find, this extraordinary realisation that what is inside our heads is not the same as what is outside.

We all need to ask more questions, and listen properly to the answers.

And too often the questions parents ask are simply the base promptings of our fears and insecurities. I do know that any advice I give you based on my own fears is worthless. This is our problem, and you shouldn’t have to deal with it. Believe me, I’m working on it.

I realise how inconsequential and valueless parental love appears, now you stand on the threshold of the world. But that love is completely unconditional and you can always depend on it. I know it is the part of me that will never grow old, never weaken or fail. I don’t want anything from you in return, except perhaps that you not be too proud to ask for that love, if ever you need it. Dad and I will always be here for you.


41 thoughts on “A Letter I’ll Never Send

  1. I love letters like this – I’ve written a few of them in my time. Somehow, even though you know you’re not going to send them, just getting the words out there really helps. 🙂

  2. I love this. I’m saving it to reread as Evangeline grows older. Your son is very lucky to have you as his mom – something he will realize time and time again as he leaves home and, in the words of Lena Dunham, “gets busy becoming who he’s supposed to be.”

    • Oh those are lovely words. He is in the middle of being pretty busy about it right now, and I just hope he becomes himself soon, because I can see it’s going to be splendid. Thank you for your lovely comment, Courtney, and I send hugs to you and to Evangeline.

  3. “But remember that language stays the same. We have to make an extra effort to convey the before and after effect, which is why, for instance, the platitudes that your father and I spout still seem fresh and urgent to us. We are attaching experience to our worries that is hard to express.”

    Yes. Crying at desk now!

  4. So beautiful, so wise, so heart wrenching. These boys of ours, mine 22 and yours roughly the same, are longing for independence and freedom from us. They can’t see how much we love them and long to protect them, knowing that we can’t. They must grow up on their own, and in so doing, we grow, too. Sending love, knowing how you feel as it echoes my own heart.

    • It’s been such a comfort to read your posts about your son, Bellezza, and know that you’re going through the same rite of passage. Sending hugs and solidarity to you. We’ll adjust, won’t we!

  5. A lovely letter (which I hope your son will get to read at some point). I love the wisdom in this. And the way that you are consciously acknowledging his independence (and the fact that you can’t live his life for him or prevent him from making costly mistakes).

    • I cannot tell you how hard it is to hold back from intervening at the least sign of a costly mistake hovering on the horizon! It is SO hard. But looking it straight in the face, he’d only learn to dislike me and push me off harder if I tried to meddle. Thank you for your lovely comment, Pete. Hugs to you.

  6. We are all hugging you long and hard at our end because we feel your pain in this. The Bears are willing to pack their bags and come and make the virtual hugs real ones should you need them.

    • What a truly lovely compliment. Thank you. He’s such a good boy, I just try to be good enough for him, you know? Any time you need mothering, just call.

    • Oh thank you so much. That’s such a nice comment. I have come to think that the hard way is the ONLY way we learn, alas. But even so, that’s better than not learning at all.

    • Oh, just growing up. And sitting A levels. Although thinking about it, both of those are crucial and painful, so you are probably quite right! 🙂

  7. This is lovely and so true. As you will be aware we share your situation and fully understand your thoughts and feelings. Hope all goes well for all of us.

    • ??? Is this a test, to check if I read your replies, like when I used to put in an out of context/ grammar word like elephant into some of my education course essays? Some tutors seemed to miss the elephant in the room!

      • Oh dear. I’m so sorry. I just missed it as I was going through – which happens so easily to me, it seems! Anyway, belatedly, thank you for your comment – both of them! – and I do hope that everything is going okay with you, too. I’m sure, like us, you’ll just be glad when this part is over…

  8. It sounds as if you are at the point of letting go. How very hard that must be. I hope your boy reads this letter one day, because it reinforces what a conscious parent you are and there are not so many of those around.

    • I think you’re in this camp with me, no? But yours are in the lovely stage when they are all fun and delight. Not that mine isn’t that too, still, sometimes. It’s just the life stuff suddenly hits. I can’t thank you enough for your compliment about being conscious – it’s something I really do try hard to achieve.

  9. Your words brought me to tears. When I read it aloud to my hubby, I got so choked up I found it difficult to finish the last paragraph. I just hope that a young-one reads it and it makes a difference. Thank you for expressing the hopes, wisdom and humility that mirror our “unwritten” letter.

  10. This is one of the most beautiful things I’ve read in a long time. I know he doesn’t feel it right now (what child does at his age? I certainly didn’t, although, now, having just spent a week traveling around California with my own mother, I would shout to the world how very lucky I am), but he is very lucky to have you as a mother.

  11. Pingback: Moms, I’d like You to Meet… | themodernidiot

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