Children are born, and from that moment on they begin the process of separation from their parents.
The first big step is Kindergarten. Putting your child on the bus, watching it drive away, and breaking down in tears on the curb. Yes, even the dads cry over this one. How will they ever get along without me? They can’t tie their shoes yet! We can’t talk to them all day!
Then follow a number of incremental separations, overnight trips, school activities, vacations with friends, mission trips, and we gradually learn to accept they have their own little lives.
But the next hardest separation, and maybe the very hardest one short of death, is leaving home for college, or just moving out after high school.
They have lived with you, or should I say lived off of you, for almost 20 years, every day, sharing each and every turn in their lives, whether they wanted you to or not. And as a parent, you’ve gotten pretty used to giving instructions and advice. “Did you sign up to take the ACT? What time will you be home? You need to practice your piano before you watch TV.” Probably by the end of high school most of this advice goes unheeded, but you give it nevertheless.
At last, there is that moment when they are really, really leaving home. The vehicle is packed with what they consider their most precious items (underwear, Bible, cell phone charger and guitar). What they don’t know, and you may not yet realize either, is that they will probably never return, at least not in the same circumstances, and your relationship will never, ever, ever be the same again. Gulp.
My wife and I have now experienced this joyful pain three times, and it has not become any easier. It’s just so hard to say goodbye to your son or daughter, especially when they don’t truly appreciate the significance of the moment. You know, but they don’t really know they are moving on to the next defining stage of their lives.
As they enter this stage, try to provide mature adults in their lives that they can consult on life choices. People like youth leaders, uncles, and even your friends. They may not listen to you at this stage, but they will listen at least a little to other adults. You might have to “accidentally” arrange these encounters, and also be willing reciprocate by having lunch with your best friend’s daughter to encourage her in choosing a college major.
So, prepare for the day, gird yourself, and bravely stand on the porch, waving to your loved son or daughter, wishing them well, letting them load up the car and drive away. And make sure you have a box of tissues close by. You’re going to need them. Then, keep praying. Growing up is not easy, but God has a better plan for them and it probably does not include them living with you until they are 40.
Fare thee well, my son, until we meet again, and oh yeah, return the garage door opener please!
Duane Highley is the father of four older children who have been through a number of transitions. He and his wife Lisa reside in Little Rock, Arkansas. I am interested in your thoughts. What advice would YOU give? Reply at firstname.lastname@example.org Email me if you want to share your stories about children leaving home. We could gather them all into a future article.
It’s so hard for me to believe that I’m sitting here listening to some guy talk to my son’s class about “Making Your College Search Count.” Really? How can this be? It was just a few years ago when the wife woke me up to say her labor pains were getting to the point we needed to leave for the hospital. I seriously have never been more excited, scared, nervous . . . you name it, than I was at that moment. Then after 25 hours of labor, finally getting the pumpkin-headed kid out via C-section and just sitting in the chair next to her bed holding him while she slept, I never wanted to let him go.
A little over seventeen years and three more kids later, here I am thinking that this kid has absolutely no clue as to what he wants to do with his life and where he wants to go to college. If I didn’t work with high school students every day, I would be worried, but I know that my son is pretty typical. It’s the ones who think they have their lives all mapped out and who believe they know exactly what they want to do that worry me more. The reality is often those kids are as clueless as the others; they just don’t know it.
Last night on our way home from my son’s cello lesson, we were listening to a guy from Stanford talk about entrepreneurship. He said life is too short to spend it doing things you aren’t passionate about and that it is really important to surround yourself with smart, quality people of integrity. It was then I turned to my son and said, “You know, that will be your saving grace . . . that you pretty much hang around quality kids and have very little patience for dealing with idiots.”
His response: “Yep.”
And I’m fine with that. I don’t really care where he decides to go to college or what he ends up doing for a career as long as he’s a smart, quality person of integrity. I’ve even come to the place where I’m willing to let him go. That part, anticipating him moving out, gets easier as he gets older. I’m wondering if I’ll be as excited, scared, nervous, etc. when he moves out as I was on the day he was born.
Darren Sombke, father of four, lives with his wife Jungah and their family in northern Illinois. He can be reached at email@example.com