My husband, Chuck, and I stood on our front stoop waving to our oldest daughter as she pulled out of our driveway on her way to Tennessee. With a sly smile, Chuck uttered through clenched teeth, "She doesn't have a clue where she is going." I thought to myself--neither do we! Rachel was concerned about finding her way to a summer camp. We were concerned about finding our way through the transition years to the empty nest. Rachel did make her ultimate destination. Sometimes I wondered if Chuck and I would.
As Chuck held the storm door open for me, he joked, "Parenting reminds me of that line in the Jurassic Park movie, "First comes the oohing and aahing, and then comes the yelling and the screaming." One of the main characters, a scientist, who had previously been to the dinosaur reserve was explaining the typical reaction of a new comer to the park. Then when faced with an actual life-size dinosaur, reality set in. As new parents, we had experienced our share of oohs and aahs. No longer new kids on the block, we now embraced the glaring reality that parenting is just plain hard work and at times, down right scary. Some days we just wanted to scream--at our kids, at ourselves for handling a situation badly, or simply to release the pain we felt at saying goodbye to our grown children.
As I said goodbye to Rachel that day on her way to camp, I realized anew that parenting is terminal. It does eventually come to an end, or at least it should under healthy conditions. I spent the year before Rachel's high school graduation coming to grip with that fact. Grieving her lost childhood and uncertain about my new relationship with her, I snuck behind doors to conceal my tears, scurried off to the bathroom in the middle of dinner to blow my nose, and smothered her with hugs whenever she walked past me. One day while washing dishes, I burst into tears. Rachel walked into the kitchen and I immediately opened a cabinet door to hide my face. I didn't want to make her transition from home any harder on her than it already was. I started to leave, but as I turned to walk away, Rachel looked me straight in the eyes, took me in her arms, and squeezed. That "squeeze" opened the door for a closer relationship as I no longer tried to shut her out of my pain. We could now walk through the transition together. As she was leaving the kitchen, Rachel turned and with a twinkle in her eye, said, “Oh, and by the way, saying goodbye doesn’t mean forever. I’ll be back!”
Several reminders helped as I let Rachel go and grow into the woman God desired her to be. I pray these suggestions also help you as you release your grown child.
Be aware that transition times are the hardest. Helping your young person move to complete independence requires thinking through the practical affairs of living. Sit down together with your teen and talk about goals. Write any thoughts down on paper. Will your child get a job or go to college? If he chooses college, will he work to pay his way or will you offer financial assistance? Will he purchase a car? When? Each child and each situation is different, so it is important to sit down together and map out a strategy in keeping with the child's goals and available resources. Carol Kuykendall has written an excellent book published by Tyndale House titled, Give Them Wings, on preparing your teen to leave home. She shows parents how to help their teens set goals for themselves, manage finances, maintain a car, do laundry, as well as other life skills necessary for living on one’s own. A church friend loaned the book to me during my daughter’s senior year of high school. I found the advice timely, practical, and comforting. I highly recommend it to you for additional help in this time of transition.
When your teen is "under his own roof" financially, then he can make his own decisions. As long as you are footing the bill for college or any other venture, your teen is accountable to you and has not fully left. Finance leads to freedom which leads to independence. We encouraged Rachel to seek part time employment during high school in order to assist with college. While she was not financially independent from mom and dad, she developed a healthy appreciation for what it takes to live on one’s own. She set up savings and checking accounts and learned how to manage both. She helped with the family car expenses, such as gas, repairs, and insurance. She understood that as long as mom and dad were paying for college or gap year experiences, she needed to consult with us about her plans. Thankfully, we have been able to add our blessing to Rachel’s dreams, and therefore have not had difficulty providing financial backing on that score. If, in your case, you do find it difficult to mentally or spiritually support your child’s aspirations, and after prayer, counsel, and communication with your teen, discover he still feels inclined to follow his dream, then you will need to release that child to fund himself.
Set boundaries before your teen leaves home. Establish some plan for phone calls, emails, or letters. If your child has left the home financially independent, then he is no longer a child. He has moved from Ephesians 6:1--"Children, obey your parents in the Lord" to Ephesians 6:2--"Honor your father and mother." If he has been taught from the cradle to respect your authority in a way that has been loving and also respectful to him, then most likely he will continue to honor you through his actions and words. To do so shows true maturity on his part. Don't overload your grown child with advice. During these transition years, it may seem as if he needs you one minute and casts you aside the next. Be patient as he moves toward full independence. Allow him to learn what you had to learn by experiencing life. And by all means, keep praying!
That day in the kitchen was a breakthrough for me. Rachel’s serenity and assurance reminded me that her dad and I had prepared her for the next step. I could let go with confidence that her heavenly Father would protect, provide, and guide her as she stepped out into the world. As Rachel looked at me, with broken voice, I stammered, "I know you have to leave. That's right and good. Please bear with me as I deal with saying goodbye. Crying is just part of being a mom." Rachel quietly responded, "I know. And guess what? Saying goodbye doesn't mean forever. I'll be back."
Check out my latest novel, Second Chance, which profiles an empty nest mom who wants the life back in her marriage.