Her size XL t-shirt hung six inches below her tush, swallowing up her 5’ 2” frame.

“I’m going out back to find a tree branch for my wall art.”

I wanted to bite my tongue, but gut-deep momma instinct wouldn’t allow me.

“Please put some shorts on first.”

You see, beneath the hanging cotton tee was a tiny bum covered only by some Calvin Klein’s. My youngest, now 20-years-old, loves to walk around at home in extra-long shirts. It’s just her thing. Egad.

We were moving her into her first house, a rental we picked up for her as she finishes out her last two years of college. Think residential area, houses three feet apart. So, I didn’t care if an oversized shirt appropriately covered her backside or not. It was the potential emergencies that unnerved me. You know, like lightning strikes, impromptu visits by a neighbor, or other scenarios in which getting caught with your pants off would be disastrous. Not to be dramatic.

“Daughter, I know you don’t care what people think, but I care what people see. And you should too. It’s not safe for a young lady to be so carefree on a busy street.”

She rolled her eyes, took a mouth-closed deep breath through sucked in nostrils, and marched upstairs to retrieve shorts.

And there I stood.

In the space between parenting and letting go.

In an instant, a projector wheel of memories flickered across my mind screen. With uncomfortable clarity, all the times when I pressed a lesson upon her she didn’t like came into focus. And I remembered how my mom heart hurt as I fulfilled my responsibility to teach her the best I could.

But that was then.

Should I still be doing this now?

I began to wonder at what point I need to let go of the reins. Like really let go. As parents, how do we know when and if keeping our mouths shut is what’s best?

This question stirred in my heart while my daughter went outside, shorts and all. As I observed her through the window, the irony of my predicament overwhelmed me: here she was, a young adult, hunting for the perfect stick like a little kid still full of awe and wonder at God’s creation.

Isn’t that what life’s all about? Keeping the simple, childlike attitude while growing up into a complex world?

And perhaps this is exactly why my daughter loves to parade around in long t-shirts and undies—because living with an attitude of carefree clothes-less-ness is what little kids do.

But that was then.

Should she still be doing a version of this now?

I continued to ask myself this question as we finished setting up her new room. My daughter and I butted heads when it came to independence countless times during the teenage years.

One such battle was when she was a senior in high school. She asked if she could go on a date with a boy she met one time from a neighboring town. He would drive her to dinner in his car. Was she crazy?

“You want to go on a date with a total stranger, in his car, by yourself? What if he starts driving you to some faraway place? Will you jump out of the car? What if your phone dies and you can’t call 911?”

My mind was already running away with worse case scenarios, human trafficking headlines screeched into my peripheral emotional vision.

“Mom! I can’t live in a bubble. Did you ever date someone you barely knew? Like Dad for example! You know, the guy you fell in love with after a ten-minute conversation?

“Um, yes. But that was different. I was in college.”

I couldn’t believe such a dumb response left my lips.

“Yeah, well I’ll also be in college in a few months. What’s the difference? You didn’t even have cell phones back then. Plus, he’s coming to the house to introduce himself to you and Dad first.”

“Fine. You can go. Please text me the second you arrive at the restaurant.”

Ugh. Why does the parenting thing have to be so hard? And why is her logic so on point? Who raised this girl? And who was I kidding? I wouldn’t have even asked my mom if I could go on a date. I would have snuck around behind her back. Which is exactly what drove me insane now that I was on the other side as a parent.

She always kept me in the loop and my worst fears never came true. Yet as moms, we tend to stay on the noodle of fear and angst related to what ifs even after the what if period is over.

“Mom, if this t-shirt were a dress, would you think it’s too short?”

My daughter snapped me back into the present as she spun in glee around her new bedroom—only a huge t-shirt and undies covering her tiny innocence. The joy on her face over having her first real space to call home filled me to the brim. As much as my mouth wanted to mouth the word “yes”, I couldn’t. The shirt was plenty long. And if it were a dress, she certainly wouldn’t wear shorts underneath. So, I didn’t answer. Which is code between us for: you are right, but at this moment I can’t admit it.

What I couldn’t admit was that I was still resisting having to let her go. Giving a daughter wings to fly has a different feel than doing so with a son. The inherent risks of being a female in the safety department are real. And scary. The need to protect becomes cosmic in nature with a girl. The vulnerability strikes a deeper chord.

But as moms, we need to trust God is protecting our kids. He gives us children as a gift, on loan to raise, nurture, and love forward. Letting go is crazy hard. But, by God’s grace, we get through it.

It was time for us to leave our daughter in her new home. I kissed her on the cheek and told her I loved her. “Enjoy the new digs. And please remember to keep your doors locked.”

When my husband and I pulled out of the driveway, I knew I was crossing a major threshold to the other side of letting go. And it is here where I need to remain standing. For her sake and mine.

Protecting her every move as a little girl was my responsibility back then.

But this is now.

Shelby Spear

A self-described sappy soul whisperer, sarcasm aficionado, and love enthusiast, Shelby is a mom of 3 Millennials writing about motherhood and life from her empty nest. She is the co-author of the book, How Are You Feeling, Momma? (You don't need to say, "I'm fine.") , and you can find her stories in print at Guideposts, around the web at sites like Her View From Home, For Every Mom, Parenting Teens & Tweens and on her blog shelbyspear.com.