NOTE FROM ELISABETH: this post was originally written in August, 2015. My daughter has since graduated from college and is getting married next month.
You know how when you buy a new car, you see your exact car all over the place all of the sudden? Well, one of the biggest things on my mind the past few months has been getting ready for my daughter to leave for college. And during this time, I have heard bits and pieces of advice and little one-liners, from all manner of sources, that are helping me process this transition that we’re both going through.
So here’s what I’ve been working through as I prepare to let my sweet baby girl go off into the world…TOMORROW.
First, it’s our job to love our kids; it’s not our kids’ job to love us. Ouch-and-a-half. But think about this, as much as it may initially sting. They didn’t ask to be born. They didn’t ask to have us as their parents. We did this to them. And they come into our lives in whatever form – birth or adoption or fostering or stepchildren – and we love them and pour our hearts into them and our time and energy and prayer into them. And they are the recipients. Yes, they’re cute. Yes, they cuddle and give kisses. Yes, they say adorable things and draw us pictures that say they love us, and they do…in their precious, little child ways. And yes, when they get older, hopefully, we have some kind of relationship with them and they love us in an adult way. But that’s not a requirement. The deal is, we love them. Bottomline. That was super hard but super good for me to hear.
Secondly, even if my life has been hard, my kids need me to still live my life and love my life. This one I think I’m doing pretty okay with. I’ve had some hard stretches. But I have not let those difficult life seasons keep me down beyond the normal length of time to heal. I am not a bitter woman walking around with a chip on her shoulder trying to get all my perpetrators to pay for what they’ve done to me. I went through some hellish things. And I tried to learn from them. And I begged Jesus to heal me. And I asked that he would please use the pain in my life to help others. And he has. And the cycle has gone over and over like that. That’s pretty much life, if you think about it. Falling down, getting back up, walking again, all with God’s help. Repeat. I’m grateful to say that I believe I have done this one well with my kids. They are not seeing a mother who hates her life, not by a long shot. They are hopefully seeing a mother who is grateful for all of it, the good and the bad, knowing it has all shaped who I am today.
Thirdly, a friend had asked me how I was doing with Sara about to leave, and after I rambled for five minutes, she said, “You do know Sara leaving for college isn’t about you, right?” This one pierced. And I have to admit, I agree with her and I don’t agree with her. I agree with her as in I do totally get that Sara going to college is a main chapter in Sara’s life storyline whereas it is merely a few paragraphs in the parenting section of my larger picture narrative. And yet, she had asked me how I was doing with it. And it is a major transition in my life. I am, essentially, wrapping up my full-time parenting of my firstborn. And all at the same time though, I must grapple with making sure I grieve and process fully while not giving this more weight than it is due. It’s a fine line, and I’m not sure I’m walking it all that well.
But this last one was the most difficult for me to swallow. Fourthly, when the fifty-something single-mom main character in a movie I was watching asked the thirty-something male character what he needed from his mother when he was twenty, he responded with, for her to not need anything from me. Oh snap. I know moms who base their value off of how their kids have turned out. I know moms who search their adult children’s eyes for approval. And that is just too much of a burden to place on a child, even an adult child, but certainly not one who is trying to pry him- or herself from their momma’s nest and grip.
Tomorrow, I will be saying goodbye to my daughter. I’m sure I’ll drive with her to school, cars all packed. Though I’ve been joking that I’m going to play Paramore’s “Ain’t It Fun” while she pulls out of the driveway, I won’t be. I’ll be crying. Like a fool. .
But here’s what I’m hoping after hearing these supposedly random bits of advice. That when we give each other our last hug, that I remember that I loved her well and if she loves me back, that’s a bonus; that I have lived through hard things and showed her how to do it without it crushing my spirit; and that I’m going to be okay when she leaves…that I did a pretty good job with her…that she might not have learned all she was supposed to but she learned enough…that she owes me nothing but perhaps some respect…that I am who I need to be in Christ and I need nothing from her in that moment. And that, bottomline, no matter what happens, God’s got her and God’s got me.
Lord, help me.
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i just thought this was an excellent reminder of the proper perspective. Gosh, it’s easy to make things all about “me!” Move-in day for our step daughter is tomorrow. It’s certainly a different dynamic than if she were my bio daughter, but still represents a big change in our family.
Good insights! And I will add that it is even harder with the youngest since that really signals a finality to your daily active role as mother. And I promised myself and my kids that I will not be a helicopter since I see the effects of this on my college students. Even though I know I’ll want to know, I am resolved to wait until they tell me!! With my now junior in college, I only reach out to her if I have info she needs (e.g. money or family events). Otherwise, I wait for her to contact me. And it has worked pretty well And I think she’d agree. Actually I know she would. And once in a while, she invites to come flop on the bed in her college house and just hang out. And I love it when she does!
I am SOOO going through this!! Love the song!!
Hang in there….you are not alone….and I guess we’ll survive this too. Don’t like it, but your article NAILED the truth in all of it!!
Thanks again for all you do!!
I love all the “random” advice you’ve given. The best one, and the hardest is that we can’t need anything from our kids, not only when they are adults. Wow, this is hard. I felt I got a lot from my kids when they were children, lots of love in return for the love I gave them. Not so much in my role as step-mom. Lots of days I get rudeness, the silent treatment, sassiness, etc. Very little love or appreciation. Most days it kind of sucks. It was pretty easy for me to release my adult birth kids into the world, but being a step-mom…now THAT’s rough!
When my sister had the first grandchild in our family – 30+ years ago – I found a quote that said: “The decision to have a child is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside of your body.” I had it written in calligraphy, and it still hangs on her wall today – amid 4 children and – at last count – 7 grandchildren.
I’d add to that quote – it is to begin a process of letting go that lasts a lifetime. It is a never ending process. And, from the viewpoint of one who has survived betrayal and the end of a marriage – I hold my breath a bit tighter as my own children begin relationships – storming heaven – begging God to spare them a similar relational wounding.
Thanks for this tender reminder. God has allowed us – as mothers – to understand in a deep and personal way – the sacrifice He made when He sent Jesus to die on the cross. Only through Him do we have the strength to let go of our children. Thank you!