It’s 2AM. I can’t sleep. My daughter is leaving home.

Courtney left back at the end of May to spend the summer with her biological mother in Grand Rapids, Michigan, to get reacquainted with her. She told me she’d be back in August after her birthday to return to school at WCC in the fall. I was nervous about her spending three months away from home, but I thought it would be a good thing for her relationship with her mom. Then in June she called and told me that she was taking a job on Mackinaw Island for the rest of the summer and that it would mean she’d miss the first semester of school. I wasn’t thrilled with this idea to say the least and I told her that, as she was 18 years of age, it was her decision but I thought it was a very bad idea to miss school. It doesn’t help that Mackinaw is four hours away if she got into trouble and needed my help. She decided to go anyway and was upset with me that I didn’t support that decision. Today, well yesterday afternoon now, I got an email from her in which she explained that she would be sticking with the job through to its end in October (she had an option to leave in August, but she’d miss out on a bonus) and that she wouldn’t be attending the fall semester at WCC. That, in fact, she would be moving back in with her mom for a few months until she could get a job, buy a car, and find some roommates to move in with. She said she would be signing up to attend the community college in Grand Rapids and eventually to the local university.

Needless to say I was both surprised and hurt by this announcement. Surprised because I had honestly thought she’d be coming back home sooner or later and hurt because she opted to send it as an email rather than call me directly. I’ve been trying to reach her for the past several days because there was some paperwork she needed to fill out to complete financial aid and I was getting worried that something had happened as she hadn’t called me back. It was then I realize she had been ignoring my calls as she tried to figure out how to tell me she was leaving home. She didn’t really offer an explanation as to why she had made this decision, just that she had made it and that I shouldn’t try to talk her out of it. She assured me it wasn’t that she suddenly hated me, just that she needed to figure out what she wants and what is best for her. It hit me like a ton of bricks. I sent back a reply saying that I respected her decision, but that I was hurt by the means in which it was communicated. That I loved her very much, missed her, and that I hoped I’d hear from her from time to time. That she would always have a place here if she needed it and that I was only a phone call away.

Courtney will turn 19 years old in another 10 days. She came to live with me almost exactly 10 years ago just before she turned 9 when her mother got into legal trouble. She’s been a daily part of my life for a decade and she’s helped make me into a much better man than I might have been otherwise. I always figured she’d be moving out at some point in the next few years, but I always thought I’d have more forewarning and that she’d be closer to home. Without an explanation I can only assume that she was unhappy here and never told me. It is true that she and I and Anne have butted heads over college and such, but I thought we had a better relationship than we apparently did. At least good enough that news like the above would have warranted a phone call.

Thinking back over the past several months there were a few clues that I should have picked up on. At one point in the lead up to her leaving for her mom’s she asked me if life would be better if she wasn’t around. I told her of course not and asked her if she planned on moving in with her mother permanently or something. She told me no at the time. There was also a phone conversation a couple of weekends ago where I asked her if she had decided whether she was going to leave Mackinaw in August or stay until October. She hadn’t decided yet. So I asked her to let me know where I would need to go to pick her up and bring her home. She told me her mom would bring her home and I didn’t need to worry about it. I thought it odd that she’d drive all the way to Mackinaw and then all the way down to Ann Arbor, but Courtney assured me it wasn’t a problem when I asked. I should have probably realized then that something was up.

I am, naturally, blaming myself for this. Both my wife and my mother have tried to make me feel better and told me not to beat myself up over this, but it’s hard not to. I’ve not heard much from her since she left back in May, a few phone calls is all, and without an explanation as to why I am left to speculate on what I did, or didn’t do, that made her decide it was time to leave. It doesn’t help at all that she indicated that once she was back at her mom’s in October she’d set about collecting her belongings from us which suggests, to me at least, not only a permanence but a desire to cut all ties with us. It’s like the last 10 years never happened. Perhaps it’s nothing I did or didn’t do. Perhaps it’s not an indication of my failure as a father. Perhaps it’s all something she’s just decided she had to do. And perhaps it’s all of those things. I don’t know.

I just know this isn’t how I had envisioned this event taking place. I know that I’ve missed having her a daily part of my life for the past couple months. I know that I feel like the rug has been pulled out from under me. And I know that it’s now 2:40AM and I’m really going to regret allowing my anxiety and insecurity keep me awake when I need to be up for work at 6AM. So I’m headed back to bed to see if I can’t manage at least a couple of hours.

27 thoughts on “It’s 2AM. I can’t sleep. My daughter is leaving home.

  1. Les,
    Don’t beat yourself up. Usually given a bit of space and staying in contact with her, will make her come around. She is going to have an epiphany and realize many things.

    My daughter left at 19 to go to art college and moved in with roommates and everything I said was wrong… Then at 22, she started to realize that some of the things that I was saying, were coming true…  She is 23 now and only keeps mentally growing and has so much more trust in me and what I say. Even tho she is still in California and I moved to Iowa almost 2 years ago, we have grown closer together.

    I’m just saying to give it time. Maybe the re-acquaintance with her mother is a good thing. Girls need their mothers at a certain age, same as when they are younger they are daddy’s little girl. As they turn more into a woman, mom becomes a very important part of her life.

    As for her doing it all thru email… My daughter told me something real important thru email also… She was just scared to face me. It was a way for her to not INSTANTLY see my reaction and give me time to react (her explanation).
    Then we talked about it (thru email) and it felt calmer. We were both able to really think about what we wanted to say instead of maybe getting angry at each other, because you know how people get a bit explosive and emotional under these circumstances and then we say things we don’t really mean.

    Long explanation… sorry. Just don’t feel bad. Kids don’t come with instructions. Every single one of us is really winging it =) We try to do our best.
    terri ~

  2. I agree with Terri, Les. I know too little about you folks to give you the wisdom of the ages…

    But if you loved her, and respected her, and she did the same with you (and I don’t doubt it much from what I know of you from your many posts and got the feeling from you’d be a lovely dad to have) then she’s not suddenly decided that the last 10 years where wrong, or that she hates you.

    But she may want some changes in her life (all part of growing up), and this is her way of doing it. Be there for her when she tries to get back into greater contact at some stage. You haven’t lost her, she’s just going to be be away more.

    And if its any consolation – my personal experience with my own dad is that if you were friends before, some more distance can even strengthen the bond in the long term.

    Hang in there!

  3. I think that everything Terri said is spot on. Don’t beat yourself up. I’m guessing that a lot of this is the natural desire to be someplace different and the rest is the mother-daughter thing.

  4. That sucks.  But like everyone else, don’t beat yourself up over it.  She will be 19 years old.  She feels it is time to stretch her wings.  As long as you always remind her she has a place if needed and you will be there for her, everything will be ok.

    She told you in the email because she made up her mind about it and didn’t want to face you with you trying to convince her to come home or see the hurt that you would have felt.  It was her way of saying she made the decision and that is that.

    My kids are small, and while I look forward to the day it is just DH and me, I really don’t look forward to my kids leaving.  Hell, just the thought of my son going to school next year is tearing me apart.

    What you have to do now is be confident in that you taught her as best you could and that all your life lessons and advice stuck…and have faith that she will be ok.


  5. If nothing else, be glad she’s out there earning money and getting bonuses doing it. That’s far more than a lot of people her age right now. Might as well get it while it’s available!

  6. As another perspective, Les, the fact that she told you by email might indicate that she cares very much about you. If you didn’t have a good relationship, she would have no problem blowing you off, either in person or on the phone… if she even contacted you at all. She didn’t want to call you because she was afraid of hurting you.

    I know this because I have three daughters, two of which have moved out and one who is 17. They seem to be more comfortable with email for “difficult” conversations… at least to get the discussion out in the open. Sometimes deeper conversations happen in person after that, other times it continues in email, but the important thing is that communication stays open and honest.

    Of course, none of that has anything to do with how you feel about your children growing up and moving on. I’m right there with you on that one. I can only assume it gets easier with time.

  7. Just a fair warning though, the local universities in Grand Rapids, despite all being community sponsors of the buy local first campaign, are complete assholes when it comes hiring people that are currently Michigan residents. For example, almost every single person hired for a position at GVSU’s library in the past couple years does not have a MLS from a Michigan library science program and are not currently Michigan residents (some of the hires were born in Michigan and then left for YEARS before coming back when offered at job at GVSU), and the general hiring isn’t much better. People from Grand Rapids are told “don’t let the door hit you on the way out” while people from other states are given a ‘charming’ marketing spiel how great Michigan is. In short, your daughter shouldn’t get her hopes up of getting anything more than crap retail jobs, or maybe food service on campus jobs while she attends a university in the GR area.

  8. As someone who is just this side of 19 (and probably broke her daddy’s heart by running far away to college), I can pretty much guarantee that it’s not you (or your wife, or her mother).  It’s what 19-year-olds do… we move away and break your heart.

    Also, I concur with the folks who think the e-mail is a slightly warped sign of affection and respect.  Imparting information that may be difficult to hear or emotionally charged is never easy, especially if the person sharing information knows it won’t be something received well.  A letter allows for a little bit of breathing room and space; so that everyone can keep their cool and not say things they’ll regret later.  It hurt my relationship with my mother-in-law (who called me a heathen whore!), when we sat her down to let her know that my (now) husband was moving in with me.

    I’m sorry it’s hard.  I can’t imagine what it’s like to have to let go (even just a little bit) to someone you love so very much.  One of those joys that awaits me in the future.

  9. One of the things I ask some of the prisoners at the sentence planning meetings we have when the hit 21, and are thus ready to be moved into an adult jail is “what do you think of the kids coming into the prison now- the 18 year olds”.  They get exactly what I am talking about- they can see how they have changed from a cocky 18 year old to an adult.  Some of them can’t wait to get to an adult prison, with people twice their age, to get away from the kids 3 years younger. 

    While I appreciate that Courtney isn’t a street gang member, there is something that happens in teenagers at 18.  They have to make a ‘them size’ hole in society, and once inhabited, work out how to fit in with everyone else and then realise what a ungrateful little bugger they were while trying to define that hole.

    4 hours isn’t ‘end of world’ bad- even in a place the size of the UK lots of kids go to uni 3-4 hours away from home (I did at 18). The kind of emergency that can’t wait 4 hours is likely to be the kind of emergency that can’t wait 2, so is the distance (apart form time wasted and money spent) that important.  A two hour journey will be a stay for an afternoon visit from her- 4 hours is an excuse to make a night/weekend of it.

    Your only concern is the missing education. Explain to her, unemotionally, why you are worried about this- to many people retire after dong for 40 years a job they were only using as a 6 month stop gap.

  10. Les, it isn’t you. It’s the age and the stage, and in time you will find that you have an even better relationship with Courtney as she learns about life and realizes that you are suddenly smarter and wiser than she thought you were!

    It’s amazing how that happens! But fortunately it DOES happen, and just by being loving and supportive in a non-smothering sort of way, you can help her become the fabulous adult that you raised her to be.

    Hugs to you! It’s hard to watch our baby birds fly from the nest, but I have no doubt that you’ve done a great job, and she will fly high!

  11. Researchers have indicated that parents have about a 3% to 4% influence on our progeny. Their peers have about 10% influence. The rest is genes and environment. We would all like to think that we have a greater influence on our kids than we actually do, but the bright side of that is that the kids’ decisions are probably not made on what we have said or done to them while growing up. Like the others above, 18 – 19 yr-olds have to “punch a hole” in society and try to fit into that hole. Keep in touch and let her know you support her in being independent, but also let her know when you are disappointed by some of her decisions. If you truly love something, let it go. If it flies away, hunt it down and smash it. No, seriously, the bird has to learn how to fly on its own.  grin

  12. I got a call from Courtney this afternoon after she saw my blog post. She didn’t realize how abrupt her decision seemed to me or how hard I would take it. I won’t go into too much detail, but suffice it to say that I’m feeling a bit better after having talked to her.

    I’m still not thrilled with the distance involved, if only because it’ll make it very hard to visit her regularly and I do miss having her around, but I’m no longer sitting here speculating wildly as to what went wrong.

  13. I wished I had told my parents to go “Fuck Themselves” When I was 19. I waited until I was 30. I should have known they would manipulate the situation by any means possible to suit their own needs.

    For 11 years their games just went on and on and on…

    It would be nice if people could take a hint. I finally just had to be blunt.

    The lesson I learned was this…Most of the time the person playing ( I’m an emotional victim of someone ) Is actually victimising the shit of out of that same person. Holding them hostage by any means possible. Money, Gifts, perhaps even blogs.

    I am not saying this is the case with you and Courtney. But it sure brings back memories.

  14. (Intentionally commenting before reading the other comments)

    Les, please try to set aside your hurt for the manner of the communication and focus on your relationship with her.  Some things are just easier to say in writing.  She has assured you she doesn’t hate you, she is still willing to communicate with you, and she appears to be still planning on continuing her education. 

    I’ll skip talking about my oldest son, except to say my advice is give her your blessing, and cherish every email or any other sort of communication you receive from her.

  15. OK now, I’ve read the other comments.  It’s so great that she called you.  Courtney, if you’re reading, that was excellent.

    Parents are way more vulnerable than grown children usually suspect.  And, the reverse is probably true.  We just don’t realize…

  16. When I was 19, I was more than happy to be a server at a restaurant out by the highway.  Tips filled in very well for my need to see a prompt and tangible outcome.
    College classes seem to be never ending, what with research papers, paying tuition, student loans, continuing education hours.

    There’s a song by Reba McEntire which asks:
    “Is there life out there? so much she hasn’t done? Is there life beyond her family and her home?”

    At age 19, your kid probably isn’t leaving somebody, she just wants to see other places and people for awhile.  Her birth mother seems to be a likely person and place for the next step of growing up.

  17. My mother urged my sisters and I to go away to college.

    Living at home and attending school nearby was not an option in her opinion. We needed to be out on our own and learn life lessons she and my father couldn’t teach.

    Kinda shitted us up with college loan debt though…

    The only thing that makes that bearable is my great job đŸ˜€


    Edit: Actually, rereading my comment, I’ve realized that should probably read “[…] out on our own making mistakes.”

    Original bad grammar notwithstanding.

  18. Les,

    It sounds like, having gotten a taste of being away, she’s trying to establish her independence and a clean slate—something she can’t do living at home in the same neighborhood where she went to high school.  Such things are part of kids growing up. 

    Ultimately, growing up shouldn’t mean growing apart, to the point that you can’t relate with each other like human beings.  It sounds like you’ve had sort of a mind-to-mind talk, but not really a heart-to-heart one.  That needs to happen, and will hopefully happen soon.  My sense is that she’s simply insecure and wants to avoid confrontation, but some things deserve real communication.  Be prepared to listen and not fly off the handle when you two touch bases. 

    As for her specific choice here, unless her mom has serious connections or Courtney takes on a Dutch last name (Van Jenkins?), she won’t get very far in the Grand Rapids area.  “If ya ain’t Dutch, ya ain’t much.”—really.  Given the Dutch Reform repressives, if she shares any of your views on atheism, she really should avoid expressing them.  Grand Rapids is full of west side conservative nutjobs, the spiritual home of Amway and Blackwater.  Sure, it’s pretty on the lake, and there’s a Meijer’s every mile, but my impression is that there’s not a whole lot for a young impressionable kid to do other than to get brainwashed.

  19. I’m back at work this morning and feeling much better. My thanks to all of you who have left comments of support.

    Paul, I’m sorry to hear you have such a bad relationship with your parents as I’ve been lucky to have a pretty good relationship with mine over the years.

    I’ve tried very hard not to be a manipulative father myself. I’m very fortunate to have a wonderful daughter who has turned out pretty well considering the tumultuous life she’s had. She spent her first 8 years living with her mother who had all manner of issues that made life, interesting, for the both of them. Then she suddenly was living with me full time when the most time we had spent together previously was a few hours every so often. I was not as big a part of her life as I should have been back when she was living with her mom, a truth I am in no way proud of, so it couldn’t have been easy to suddenly be stuck with me full time.

    Yes, my role as a father is something I am definitely insecure about. I feel like I have a hard enough time taking care of myself so I worry that I’m not dong an adequate job of taking care of my family. I am told that I’m doing just fine, but that’s the thing about insecurities. It’s hard to be rational about them.

    As for Grand Rapids itself. The curriculum she wants to go into, movie production, is available at the school up there which is part of her reasoning for her decision. She also will have plenty of local support from her mother and the friends she has in the area. She will either succeed or fail and I will do what I can to help her in either situation. She’s asked me to allow her to spread her wings and test them out. All I can do is offer my advice if she asks, and probably even when she doesn’t, and be ready to help if she needs it. I am very proud of my daughter. She is being much more independent than her father was at that age.

  20. I’m glad to hear she called you and that you had a chance to chat with her. I’m sure such issues can be very tough for parents to go through. I don’t really have much to offer, just glad to see things turned out.

  21. It’s me. The cause of all the trouble.

    I called my father again tonight, as soon as I got off of work.  I realized that I had done the same thing to him that I used to do my birth mother…I wasn’t communicating, so he didn’t have any idea as to what was going on in my life or in my head.

    I will be continuing to talk to him regularly from now on!  He’s my dad and, though sometimes I don’t get his advice, I know he only ever means the best for me. And I love him for that.

    I do enjoy the independence, but it doesn’t mean that I haven’t had my bouts of heart-wrenching homesickness. Every once in a while, I think of my dad and home and get all upset.  It’s silly, but it happens.

    Just wanted everyone to know, that I really am not just out to break my dad’s heart.

  22. Courtney, you aren’t the source of all the trouble; it’s this human heart inside of each of us.  It’s easy enough to avoid inflicting pain on the people we love, except during infancy, childhood, adolescence, adulthood, middle age and old age.  Other than that, piece of cake.

  23. I read Les’ original note, flagged it to get back to it … and realized tonight I hadn’t.

    So I’m glad to see it all got wrapped up in my absence without needing any dubious pearls of wisdom from me.

    Let me just note that while Email can seem an abrupt way to convey personal messages, sometimes for some reasons it’s the only way.  And, hey, it’s no more odd that a blog post leading to phone calls that set everything back on an even keel.

    Good luck, Courtney.  Hang in there, Les.  And kudos to a very cool and supportive community here.

  24. Can’t really add anything here, except that I too have a nineteen year old daughter who is living far from home, so I know some of what you all are going through.  All the best to you.

  25. To my son—It will turn out alright but it will take time. 

    To my grand daughter please remember we love you and need to hear from you.

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