I sat at the computer and scrolled through our photos, looking for a particular picture for a blog post. It was late, and I was in a hurry to find it. C’mon, c’mon, where is it? Suddenly, a photo from another event leaped off of the screen and caught me off guard.
It was from the day my son left for college.
A deep sigh escaped as I remembered that hot August afternoon, and the kid in the ratty ball cap who got into his car and drove off down the dusty driveway. I watched his brake lights come on as he rounded the corner by the pond. Heard the tires come to a stop as he took a last look at his boyhood stomping grounds. Then, a gear change and the hum of his engine as he pressed the gas pedal.
He was gone.
My baby. The last of our three kids.
My husband and I sat on the weathered Adirondack chairs in the front yard and wiped our eyes. Neither of us spoke for a long time. Finally, I croaked, “What just happened here?”
“I don’t know,” he shook his head. We both stared at the long dirt driveway and sniffled. “I guess it’s all over.”
Seeing that photo on the computer screen brought all of it back, full force. I’ve had three years of “empty nesting,” and though I am now enjoying it to the fullest, in just one moment I realized that I’m still in the process of letting go.
Because letting go of your kids is a process, not a one-time event.
Perhaps you’re getting ready to launch your teenager into the world and you’re struggling with the changes involved? I know just how you feel.
Here are four things I’ve learned about letting go:
1. It’s normal to grieve the end of an era.
It’s hard not to wish you could return to the days of footie pajamas and bedtime stories. You know, back when things were simple and innocent. It took me awhile to realize there are stages of grief that come with any kind of loss, (even the loss of childhood) . . . and all of it is normal.
Grieving is not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of love.
2. You need to give yourself time to adjust.
You spent eighteen years preparing your child for life, but almost no time preparing yourself for “life after kids.” Take time to reevaluate, change gears, find new pursuits, and let the dust settle. Be patient with yourself as you work it out. Remember, “He who has begun a good work in you will complete it” (Philippians 1:6).
This is yet another stepping stone in that journey.
3. It’s going to be okay. God’s got this.
One of the things that is hard to deal with is thinking of all the things I “should’ve” done or “shouldn’t” have done. We should have gone to Disneyland. We should have gone camping more. I shouldn’t have gotten so upset about minor things. I should have made them memorize more Scripture. You can drive yourself crazy with regrets.
Remember that God is bigger than any parenting shortcoming we might have had, and He is stronger than any mistakes we’ve made.
You can trust Him to cover your parenting past with His grace, and your child’s future with his power (2 Corinthians 12:9).
4. See this as a beginning.
“For everything, there is a season,” says Ecclesiastes 3:1. As each child leaves your nest, you’ll find pockets of time you didn’t have before. Instead of seeing only the things you miss, look for new opportunities to grow and give. Volunteer for a charity. Become involved in a Bible study. Take up new pursuits. I’ve taken time to create art and write a book — two things that could have never happened before being an empty nester.
Ask God to show you how to bloom in this new season of life. When you embrace it, He can do amazing things.
As your children grow and prepare to leave home, you’ll find that letting go is inevitable, but it isn’t always easy. Remember: our kids have been “on loan” to us from the time they took their first breath, and when we release them into the world, we’re really giving them fully back to God.
God is trustworthy, and He loves your kids completely.
Those are two great reasons to rest, trust and let go.