How My Toddler Taught Me the "Good" In Saying "Goodbye"

I remember a moment when our son, Landon, was about 20-months-old.

As I sat on the chair in our bedroom, reading, I looked over to see him enter the room. He got no more than three feet into the room before he stopped to notice a picture propped up against the wall.    

As Landon looked at the picture, I watched him lie down on his belly and lift his head to be face level with the image. It was a wedding picture of Christi and I with our two flower girls. With no awareness of me in the room, he began to gaze at the picture in a very affectionate way, reaching out and touching the faces of each person in the photograph. It was beyond precious.

After about 30 seconds, he stood up, looked down at the picture, and with his little 20-month-old hand, waved goodbye and walked out of the room.

My heart melted.

I have learned a lot from that 20-month-old boy. He taught me the “good” in saying goodbye.

At a birthday party for his two-year-old friend the next day, I followed Landon around the playground engaging with him in all he wanted to do. As we made our way from the jungle gym to the swings, Landon stopped, picked up a rock, and examined it with the intensity of an archeologist. As he completed his study, he brought the rock over and invited me into his experience.

When he was done, he threw the rock on the ground and made a few steps toward the swing. Then, all of a sudden he stopped, turned around, and waved goodbye to the rock—as if to say,

“Thanks, rock, for giving my dad and me that experience. It’s over now, and it’s time to move on to the next one.”

After waving goodbye, he took my hand, and led me to the swings—into a new experience.

I remember my internship supervisor in my counseling program telling us, “The quality of your goodbyes will determine the quality of your hellos.”

Translation: The ability to grieve and make sense of your losses impacts how well you enter into and engage in future relationships.

Unresolved grief can hurt how we engage our spouse and kids.

Unresolved grief can also hurt how we enter new experiences.

Echoing this sentiment, we were challenged at Cloud – Townsend’s Ultimate Leadership to write a grief inventory—a log of all of the losses, no matter how big or small, we have failed to grieve through the years. As I put my list together I began to think of the people, places, unmet expectations, and unrealized dreams I lost.

And it was hard work. Perhaps that’s why we live in a “just get over it” culture. Most of us hate the pain of goodbyes.

Yet, it’s the most engaging and effective leaders, spouses, and parents who defy this mentality. They have people, or sometimes counselors, who they talk through and grieve their losses with. Once they grieve the loss, they move on more successfully, and become more engaged with those around them.

They embrace the “good” of saying “goodbye.”

We all have unresolved losses. I encourage you to do a grief inventory and share your experiences with close friends or a counselor. Those experiences could include any of the following:

  the loss of a loved one

  the loss of a job

  the loss of health

  the death of a dream

  estrangement of family

  disappointment in marriage

  the loss of a friendship

  the loss of a pet

  being treated unfairly or even abusively by a loved one

Those who have trouble grieving, pay for it in some way. Or, it’s their spouse, kids, or loved ones who pay for it. That’s because the quality of our goodbyes determine the quality of our hellos.

As Landon went back and forth in the swing that day laughing uncontrollably at my ridiculous dad faces and voices we only do for our kids, I couldn’t help but think about how little we take the time to say goodbye to people and things we hold dear.

When Landon finished swinging I got him down, stood him on the ground and asked him what he wanted to do next. Aware of the new experience he wanted to say hello to, he took my hand and began leading me back to the jungle gym—but not before he stopped, turned around, and waved goodbye to the swings.

Joshua Straub, Ph.D. serves as the Marriage and Family Strategist for LifeWay Christian Resources and is the President and Cofounder of The Connextion Group, a company designed to empower parents, spouses and families. Josh speaks and writes on emotionally safe parents and spouses and the influence of technology on today's family. He is the author of the newly released Safe House: How Emotional Safety is the Key to Raising Kids Who Live, Love, and Lead Well (Waterbrook Multnomah) and along with his wife, Christi, is the producer and co-author of the video curriculum The Screen-Balanced Family: Six Secrets to a More Connected Family in the 21st CenturyJosh and his Canadian wife Christi reside in Nashville, TN with their son, Landon, and daughter, Kennedy.

For more encouragement and ideas on marriage and parenting in the 21st century, you can join Josh and a growing tribe of awesome families at www.joshuastraub.comand follow him on Twitter @joshuastraub or Facebook.