Saturday, August 27, 2005

Parental Transitions: The Gain is Worth the Pain

A mother, taking her youngest to college, talks about it and recounts the story of another child's parting from his mother:
...her son, impatient to evade her attentions on the day he was delivered to college, whispered to her, "DING! Your child is done!" as he disappeared into a flock of freshmen.
It reminded me of partings from our own children through the years. When our son, the oldest, climbed on the bus for the first day of Kindergarten, I went back into our house and cried like a baby. Thirteen years later, having gotten through saying good-bye to the Kindergartener-then-college-freshman the previous day, I sat in front of our home computer, crying quietly.

"What's the matter with Dad?" our daughter, who'd caught a glimpse of me from the other room, asked my wife.

Three years later, that same daughter, who had previously decided to stay at home and commute to a nearby college, left in the middle of her freshman year to work in the college program at Walt Disney World. I was composed while helping her move into her apartment. But as we left in the predawn darkness to come back home, my wife at the wheel, I turned my head toward the passenger window, looking at the miles reel behind us through a father's tears.

I often tell younger parents facing these transition times in the lives of their children--first day of school, first date, college, marriage--that the kids aren't the only ones who need to grow up. Facing the changes, not only in our kids' lives, but in our relationships with them, we parents must grow up too.

From the moments our children come into our lives, our jobs as parents boil down to one simple task: Letting go of our kids and empowering them for that.

To equip them for those moments when, gradually, they take more responsibility for themselves, I believe that we're called to do two things:

First: We're to introduce them to the God we know through Jesus Christ Who loves them as they are and is committed to helping them to become all they can be. Interestingly, we never demanded that our kids go to church or that they believe. Parents can't coerce faith...and shouldn't try to do so. But our kids believe nonetheless. What confidence it brings to a child who can say, with the apostle Paul, "I can do all things through Christ Who strengthens me." Or, "nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." Or, to remember Jesus' words, "With God all things are possible!"

Then: The second thing we need to do as we let go is teach them to take responsibility for their own lives. I often tell parents that when loving discipline is imposed on children early--that is, when we expect them to do unto others as they would expect others to do unto them, children are likely to adopt that responsible lifestyle as their own when they reach adulthood. They see that while taking responsibility for ourselves can be burdensome, it's also exhilarating!

Our kids are now in their twenties--our daughter married and continuing her schooling while working part time, our son graduated from college and living with us while saving money for graduate school. It's wonderful relating to them as adults.

Letting go of our children in all those pivotal transition points of life is painful. But to see them confidently living as their own adult human beings makes the pain worth it, believe me.

[By the way, thanks to Tamar for linking to the piece that inspired this post.]

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