Christian radio stations may cause a certain number of fender benders this month. Every May, they dust off the song “Give Them Wings” by Mark Harris, and parents of kids graduating to the next level of school tear up and lose sight of the road or the car in front of them. If your child is graduating from high school or college, my advice is to just pull into a parking lot when the song begins and find an unused napkin or some Kleenex. That song is going to take you out of commission for three to five minutes.
I often say if almost every parent says something, take it as truth. And almost every older parent tells you to enjoy your kids because they grow up quickly. The book of James has a rather blunt way of stating that truth: “What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes” (James 4:14). If life is a vanishing mist, then childhood is like a few minutes in a sauna. You take them to kindergarten and, thirteen years later, you attend their high school graduation. Time flies so, as the song says, we need to “help them find their wings.”
I recently read a devotion from Henri Nouwen, and he said, “When we want to drink the cups of our lives, we need first to hold them.” Those words became the metaphor that prompted this article. We wean our kids to a bottle, then to a sippy cup. Slowly, they learn to grip the handles and drink for themselves. Eventually, after several “spills,” they learn to drink from their glass at the table. A parent’s job is to make sure their kids keep moving forward in life. But, we can’t help but feel a twinge when, years later, we find the sippy cup in the back of the cupboard.
The early parenting goals are clear. We all know that our kids weren’t supposed to show up for kindergarten with a bottle in their lunch box. We stop giving them a sippy cup at some point, even though we know there will be an occasional spill to clean up. We understand our kids shouldn’t go through life without the ability to drink from a cup. But Nouwen’s metaphor wasn’t about those early years. Nouwen’s metaphor was about making sure your kids “graduate.”
A parent’s job is to raise their kids to take hold of their own lives, make their own choices, and clean up their own “spills.” That means we need to stop holding the “cup of their lives” for them. Good parenting means we keep “weaning our kids” until they can hold that cup for themselves. The years they spend in school are their road to independence, and it’s important to keep handing them the next cup, a metaphor for their next stage of life.
Our kids grow up quickly and will lead lives of their own choosing. We are only supposed to hold their hands for a little while because they don’t really learn how to walk unless we let go. And, if parents think they need to keep them within arms’ reach, their children will never learn how to run.
The chorus to “Give Them Wings” is a parent’s prayer for his kids:
I pray that God would fill your heart with dreams
And that faith gives you the courage
To dare to do great things
I’m here for you whatever this life brings
So let my love give you roots
And help you find your wings
Parents don’t give their children wings; God already did that. A parent’s job is to help our kids learn to find and then use those wings. Like birds, our kids will probably need to be pushed from the nest a time or two. God gave them wings for a reason. You taught them to walk with God, but they can’t learn to fly until they leave the nest.
Graduations will always be bittersweet, but take some time to rejoice over each new step forward. Most of life happens after childhood. If you taught them to “hold the cup of their lives” for themselves, you did your job. There will always be a few spills, but God’s grace is sufficient. The great joy and success of parenting is watching what happens when your kids learn to fly away.
The nest becomes empty, but that just means your kids are where they need to be.