In her poem "To a Daughter Leaving Home," Linda Pastan captures the bittersweet feelings a parent experiences as their child grows into an adult through the use of an extended metaphor . In the poem, the parent recalls teaching their eight-year-old child how to ride a bike. The parent follows...
In her poem "To a Daughter Leaving Home," Linda Pastan captures the bittersweet feelings a parent experiences as their child grows into an adult through the use of an extended metaphor. In the poem, the parent recalls teaching their eight-year-old child how to ride a bike. The parent follows alongside the child, but before long, the daughter moves too quickly for the parent to keep up. They are left watching with anxious concern as the daughter fades into the distance. As the title tells us, this poem is not only about a parent learning the difficult lesson of letting go while teaching their child how to ride a bike—it is also about a parent's bittersweet feelings upon watching their daughter grow into an adult and leave home.
Bicycle riding is an extended metaphor for the journey of life and growth. When the child is first learning how to ride a bike, the parent follows closely alongside. This represents childhood, during which the parent stays close to the child ideally providing love, guidance, and support. Once she becomes more comfortable riding a bike, the daughter pedals faster and faster until eventually her parent is unable to keep up. This parallels growth. As a result of the parent's guidance and support, the child becomes more confident and independent. They are progressively less reliant on the parent.
The helpless concern and anxiety the parent feels while watching their daughter ride off alone mirrors the simultaneous pride and heartache felt by many parents when their children reach adulthood and become less dependent on them. While the parent is proud of the confident, independent child they have raised, they are also saddened by the thought of no longer having as large a role in the child's life. This sadness is often accompanied by worry and concern. Letting go of one's child is an incredibly difficult thing to do. The parent struggles to accept that they will no longer be able to be constantly present in the child's life and protect the child from harm.
The final line of the poem is particularly emotional and meaningful. Pastan compares the daughter's wind-blown hair to a "handkerchief waving goodbye." Through the use of this simile, Pastan bridges the gap between past and present and drives home the bittersweet struggle of letting go of one's child.