When Children Grow Up

Many parents that I know – some who attended parenting classes that I taught when our children were in elementary school – are watching their children prepare to go off to college.  Former CEOs of companies are reaching out on Facebook because they find this transition so challenging.  Moms are writing that they unexpectedly burst into tears.

We are advised that this is a time to “let go.”  “Letting go” highly contradicts what my heart is feeling as my husband and I watch out daughter prepare to leave home in a few months.  I know in my head that this is what we raised her for.  I know this is the way of growth.  In my head, I know that this is the right, healthy, positive thing for her to be doing.  Yet my heart sings a different tune! 

This is the first in a series of posts about the transition of children growing up.  It is a transition for children and for parents.  Whether your child is going into first grade, going away to camp, entering high school, or moving away for college or a job, the change is big for everyone.  Somehow, right now, it feels so gigantic with the leap to living away from home. 

I hope this encourages you to fully feel your heart break wide open.  

We had just traveled to Seoul to meet up with our daughter who had been studying abroad for a month.  This was the longest that she had been away from home, and not only had she had a great time, but she had also done very well handling challenges that had come up.  Her debit card had worked only intermittently, and she had handled it.  She wanted to change classes – the process involving communicating with three educational institutions, one in Korea — and she had handled it.  She had felt sick, and she had handled it.

The second night we were there, I woke up at some unknown hour sobbing from a very deep place.  I didn’t want her to leave home.  I loved our life as it is.  I wanted everything to stay the same.  I didn’t want to say goodbye to the most cherished time of my life. I could not stop crying even if I had wanted to, and I didn’t want to.  I wanted to fully feel this sadness that had been pricking at my heart over the last six months.  I cried for a very long time.  My husband cried.  I hoped I didn’t wake the neighbors who lived next door to our Airbnb!  I hoped I didn’t wake up my daughter who was asleep two stories below us.

I wrote a letter to my daughter.  I shared how this moment in time was saying goodbye to such a treasured period of my life.  I listed many of the things I loved about having her as my girl.   There wasn’t room to list them all.  I asked that she understand my heart as she took flight.  I requested that she practice patience if I hesitate or stumble or cling.  I told her how I realized that my attempts to control things were a reflection of unfelt feelings including my fear of this big new unknown.  I realized how those attempts were grasping at a reality that didn’t even exist any longer.  I let her know that I loved her without measure and that I honored her dreams.  Between big cries, I released all that I was feeling onto paper.

What I found on the other side was a vulnerability in which I could see her more clearly as she is now – perched, ready to take flight – and in which I could be much more present.   Being vulnerable and feeling the sadness, anger, fear, hurt, and happiness that erupted that night allowed me to realize that this isn’t about “letting go” but about choosing a new way to be as we step into this brave, new world.  It gave me strength.

For a New Beginning by John O’ Donohue

In out of the way places of the heart
Where your thoughts never think to wander
This beginning has been quietly forming
Waiting until you were ready to emerge.

For a long time it has watched your desire
Feeling the emptiness grow inside you
Noticing how you willed yourself on
Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.

It watched you play with the seduction of safety
And the grey promises that sameness whispered
Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent
Wondered would you always live like this.

Then the delight, when your courage kindled,
And out you stepped onto new ground,
Your eyes young again with energy and dream
A path of plenitude opening before you.

Though your destination is not clear
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
That is one with your life’s desire.

Awaken your spirit to adventure
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm
For your soul senses the world that awaits you.