I found my joy as a mother in learning to let go

By Lisa Twang, May 09, 2021

If you love someone, let them go.” It’s easy to say, but much harder to do. 

It’s natural for mums to want to cling to our children, because we want the best for them and don’t want to see them fall. Sometimes, we also struggle to give up our own emotional baggage: the hurt from broken relationships or the refusal to relinquish control of our kids. But holding on too tightly can hold both mothers and children back, which is why the art of letting go is so important to our happiness.

This Mother’s Day, we ask one of the #dayremummies community’s most beloved mums, Jenny Yong, how she learned to let go as a mother. Better known by her Dayre handle @sunorchid, school librarian Jenny is 63 and a single mother to 20-year-old Kevin. Born and raised in Singapore, Jenny now lives in sunny Sacramento, USA with Kevin, her best friend Vivian, and their family dog, Teddy.

Through letting go of the pain from her divorce and her intense expectations as a parent, Jenny shares how she has found release, and a closer relationship with her son. 

* * * *

I used to think being a mum was easy. I imagined seeing the world through my child’s eyes, travelling together and having fun. I was excited to experience pregnancy, and raise my own child from birth to adulthood.

With Kevin in the park, near our old place.

With Kevin in the park, near our old place.

Being a mother has been amazing, but it’s definitely not what I expected. Parts of it were really overwhelming and painful: the baby stage, the angsty teen years, the struggle as a single parent. 

Over the years I’ve softened and changed, and become a stronger woman and a more understanding mother. And a lot of that was learning to let go of my own pain and expectations as a mum, so my son could be free to be the strong, confident young man he is today.

I became a mum late in life, at 43. I went into motherhood quite blindly, but I found my way and enjoyed a happy family life for ten years.

Enjoying my first winter in Beijing when I was 32.

Enjoying my first winter in Beijing when I was 32.

I dreamed about getting married and having kids, but the right guy never came along until I met my American ex-husband when I was 40. After dating long-distance for a year, I uprooted from Singapore to live with him in Sacramento, leaving my mother and friends behind. 

As an older couple, we decided not to put too much pressure on ourselves to have kids, and just go with the flow. And we were happy to find out I was pregnant in our first year of marriage.

Three months pregnant with Kevin.

Three months pregnant with Kevin.

When Kevin was first born, I had postpartum blues. I had no parents, in-laws, confinement nanny, or close mum friends like I do now on Dayre: and it made me feel helpless.

With Kevin when he was a newborn.

With Kevin when he was a newborn.

Back then, I was scared of Kevin and when he cried, I cried too. I struggled to breastfeed, and felt exhausted all the time. I remember half-joking asking my ex: “Can we send him back?” Fortunately, my ex was a very hands-on dad, and we raised Kevin together.

Celebrating Christmas with Kevin when he was a toddler.

Celebrating Christmas with Kevin when he was a toddler.

Kevin’s fifth birthday.

Kevin’s fifth birthday.

I spent eight years as a stay-home mum, and later started volunteering and working at Kevin’s school library. Kevin, his father, and I were very close in those early years, and our house was full of hugs and laughter.

When Kevin was ten, my ex and I divorced. It hurt like hell, and for years I struggled to let go of my pain.

I had thought my marriage was strong, so when my ex told me he had found someone else, I was in shock. I felt so betrayed, and my self-esteem was at its lowest because part of me blamed myself for the divorce.

I was also very stressed by our financial situation. Money was tight: Kevin and I were living from paycheck to paycheck and I could only catch up on my home mortgage payments once a year, when I received my tax return. I thank God that I had enough savings from my working years to support Kevin and I. 

I was honest with Kevin about the divorce, as I’ve always believed in open communication. Those were hard times, but we got through them by relying on each other.

I told Kevin that his father and I were no longer together, and it was okay to feel sad. I added that he could come to me with any questions, and I would not lie to him. 

The day my ex moved out of our house to be with his then-girlfriend, Kevin and I hugged each other and cried. That week, we stayed in and watched Harry Potter movies at home, taking comfort in each other. Kevin was really my rock throughout this time, keeping me company and reminding me he loved me when I was down. My good friends were also there for me during this painful time. 

I thought of moving home to Singapore with Kevin, but decided to stay in the US. Losing his father was already a big enough change for Kevin, and I didn’t want him to have to go through another huge change by moving countries and changing schools. 

I guess being a mother means prioritising your child’s needs: even when it’s really, really hard. After my divorce, I had to learn to become a bigger person for my own sake and Kevin’s.

When I was newly divorced, I wasn’t always careful with my words and would vent to my girlfriends about my ex when Kevin was around. I now realise that was wrong: when we fight with our spouses, we shouldn’t speak badly about each other in front of our kids, even if they’re very young. Kids pick up on that, and it hurts them. 

Once when we were arguing about something else, Kevin blurted out to me: “You’re the one who speaks badly about Dad!” It made me realise I had unintentionally hurt him, and I apologised. 

There were also times when I was upset by the divorce, and said things to Kevin like: “I don’t care anymore, I’m just going to walk out and leave.” I really felt like I wanted to leave everything and everyone, because I was hurt.

But it gave Kevin abandonment issues, and once he told me he feared that I was really going to leave him when things got hard. I had to learn to control my outbursts, and not say things in the heat of the moment that I would regret later. 

It took time for us to adjust to being a family of two, without my ex. I had to be both mother and father to Kevin, and I know he missed his dad. As a kid, Kevin had been his dad’s shadow and followed him everywhere. He couldn’t understand why his dad was pulling back from him after the divorce, out of guilt for breaking up our family. 

My ex is now remarried and has a daughter, and Kevin and I visit them sometimes. We’ve learned to co-exist with my ex’s new family. Kevin and I love my ex’s daughter, and while I’m not close to his new wife, we are on friendly terms. I’ve also encouraged Kevin to reach out to his dad more, as I would still like him and his dad to be close. 

People say I’m big-hearted to forgive my ex. Honestly, I learned to forgive because I don’t want to end up bitter, which will make both Kevin and I unhappy. 

For years, I was angry and miserable. The more I dwelled on my unhappiness, the more it hurt me. But I realised: what’s the point of holding onto the past? 

I haven’t forgotten what I’ve gone through, but I chose to forgive. I didn’t want my bitterness to change me. I reminded myself that my ex is no longer the person I married: he is just my son’s father, and we could learn to get along. His daughter is so lovable, and this helped to pave the way for his new family, Kevin, and I to be closer. It also helped that my ex and I worked out our finances, so we were no longer tied together and had a sense of closure.

As a mother, I’ve also learned to let Kevin be responsible for himself. I had to soften from being a Tiger Mum, to a more relaxed parent.

During Kevin’s first three years of elementary school, I was very kiasu (afraid to lose out) and strict with his school work. This was because of how I’d been brought up in Singapore: I thought grades were super important, and that Kevin couldn’t fall behind. 

When Kevin got a nine out of 10 on his spelling test, I’d be very upset and ask his teachers to give him extra credit work. I’d drill him every day, even when we were on summer holidays, with assessment books I bought from our visits back to Singapore. 

In Forbidden City, Beijing.

In Forbidden City, Beijing.

Kevin became the top student in his school. But later I would realise that I was putting too much pressure on him, and he’d become too hard on himself. If he didn’t score well on a test, he’d slap his own face and be more upset than I was. 

A friend told me: “You have to let go. If you don’t give Kevin the chance to fail and he’s used to always being on top, eventually he’ll fail one day and it’ll hit him really hard.” 

Slowly, I learned to relax and leave Kevin to study on his own. It wasn’t easy, especially when he entered middle school and became a teenager. It was like his brain had been hijacked by aliens: my sweet, loving boy suddenly became a moody kid who sulked every day. 

Back then, we fought a lot because Kevin was asserting his independence and dealing with raging hormones. Both of us were also struggling to accept the divorce. Kevin would lock himself in his room to play games, and wouldn’t respond when I talked to him. When his grades dropped, I couldn’t get him to listen, and my shouting and screaming would go over his head. 

We both learned to communicate better. I told myself to treat him like an adult, and to control my emotions. When I didn’t approve of what he was doing, I’d ask: “Can we talk?”, instead of yelling. If we found ourselves arguing, we’d walk away and talk again later when we’d calmed down. There was a time when we communicated only by chatting online, because he’d get defensive if we talked face to face.

By the time Kevin entered high school, things had settled down. I no longer checked his school work, and was a lot more lax. Fortunately Kevin was very motivated, and did well enough on his SATs to study aerospace engineering in college. 

Kevin and I on the day of his senior ball, the year he graduated from high school.

Kevin and I on the day of his senior ball, the year he graduated from high school.

Even though Kevin is in college, he still lives at home with me and Vivian, his godmother and my best friend. The three of us have become a family of our own, and we enjoy road trips and long walks together, just like I dreamed about when I was younger.

Hiking at Sonoma Coast State Park near Bodega Bay, California.

Hiking at Sonoma Coast State Park near Bodega Bay, California.

One of the hardest parts of being a mum has been learning to let go even more as Kevin becomes an adult. But I tell myself to trust his judgement, so he can learn on his own.

Two years ago Kevin told me he was interested to try smoking weed, which is legal in California for adults. I was worried, and felt like I had a huge boulder in my heart. I told Kevin I didn’t approve, and advised him to think it over carefully. I also said if he tried weed, he could tell me instead of lying about it. 

I know I cannot stop him as he is already a young man, but I appreciate that he chooses to tell me these things, instead of hiding them from me. 

I trust that I’ve raised Kevin to be smart, and he knows what to do. I’ll never stop worrying about him, but I choose to keep our communication open so we can remain close.

What I’ve learned about motherhood is that sometimes, we need to release our own burdens so we can be better people, and better mothers. And we must gradually prepare to let our children grow up and become independent.

As mums, we often want to be in control at all times: but life doesn’t work that way. At every stage of our children’s lives, we learn how to let go more and more, so we can mature along with our kids. I’ve found freedom in giving up control, and trusting my son to do what’s right for him: even if he makes mistakes sometimes.

I love Mother’s Day, because it’s my chance to feel appreciated and loved. I know people say Mother’s Day is commercialised, but I do want that recognition as a mum. I enjoy being taken out for dinner, and getting a gift from my son (I’ve already told him what to buy this year: a hair straightener!). I don’t need Kevin to be mushy with me; I’ve been his mother for so many years, and I know how he feels. 

I love Kevin dearly, and I hope we’ll always be close. I’m looking forward to the next stage of my motherhood journey, as I watch Kevin graduate, get a job, and perhaps move out or get married someday. I’ll miss him when the time comes, but I know I’ve done my job as a mother so he can be free to fly on his own.

Pictures provided by Jenny. 

To read more about Jenny’s relationship with her own mother, who was also a single mum, check out her personal Mother’s Day post on her Dayre account (@sunorchid) today. 


Writer’s Note:

My name is Lisa, and you can find me at @lisatwang on the Dayre app. On my personal account, I write about my life as a mother to five-year-old Tully: from the fun of play dates in cute cafes, to the worries of sleepless nights when I brought her to the hospital. 

Join me and 15,000 other women on Dayre who share the big and small moments of their lives with a supportive community. Reach out to other #dayremummies, #dayrewives and #dayrebrides, and read about the joys and challenges in their everyday lives.

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