The coupon arrived from the bed and bath store saying, “Campus Bound: 20% off your entire purchase.” I looked at mine and wondered who I should give it to this year. That store will be filled this month with extra-long twin sheets, mattress covers, shower caddies, and desk lamps. It is also filled with moms who are trying to hide unexpected tears at the thought of a crowded dorm room miles away—and an empty bedroom at home.
The nurse places your newborn in your arms but doesn’t tell you that you will spend the rest of your life handing that child away to others. Loving our kids means raising them to leave.
The church nursery is filled with sounds of laughter and tears . . . some of which are coming from the babies. It’s easy to spot the new parents because they look like spies lurking behind walls, attempting to spy on the crib where their child is sleeping. Half-way through the sermon they are wondering why they came . . . they can’t concentrate on Paul’s road to Damascus experience when their infant might be crying down the hall.
Each year when I taught second grade, we watched the moms and dads drop their children off for the first day of Kindergarten. The curb outside was an illustration of the phrase “separation anxiety.” There were always tears on that first day of school . . . most of them were “parental.” The children adjusted quickly to their new room, new friends, and new ideas. Meanwhile, the Kindergarten parents left the school with an odd sense of emptiness. (Helpful hint: notice the fourth- and fifth-grade parents who are practically skipping to their cars as they head to the closest Starbucks!)
Loving your child is learning how to leave:
- The first sleep-over. It’s 3 a.m. and you worry about gun cabinets, medicine cabinets, locked doors, and whether your friends will rescue your child from the burning home or just focus on their own. When you pick your child up, only one of you had a good time losing sleep the night before.
- The first camp. Will your child eat, sleep, and socialize? Not to mention: scorpions, snakes, Lyme disease, teeth that won’t see a toothbrush for the next week, and that counselor with strange tattoos. When you pick your child up they have new friends, new skills, and bad breath. And you watch in amazement as the tattooed counselor hugs your child goodbye.
- The first school trip. You don’t have a lot of concerns about this one. You are one of the chaperones.
- The first surgery. You watch them wheel your child down the hall and convince yourself you chose the best doctor . . . but realize you know almost nothing about the anesthesiologist.
- The first time you hand your child car keys. The front door closes and all you can think about are yellow lights, drunk drivers, speeding motorcycles, hidden stop signs, cell phones ringing, and other kids distracting. Even worse, you remember all the dumb stuff you did when you learned to drive.
- The day you drive off a college campus and realize that your family dynamic is forever changed. You worry it won’t ever be the same again . . . if fact, you know it won’t ever be the same again. But, enjoy this thought. Leaving is what you have been raising your child to do from the very beginning.
Parenting is about learning how to let go of your most valuable, cherished possessions that were never yours to own. Good parenting means raising your children to leave. For some it comes naturally, but for others it will mean stepping out of what feels natural so that you can do what is best.
Whatever stage of “separating” you find yourself in, know this: if you have raised your child to know and love God, you will be together forever. This is our promise:
In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that
neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers,
nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us
from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:37–39).
It’s easier to raise your kids to leave when you know that home lasts forever.