Updated: Jun 9, 2020
I recently passed a friend of mine in the hallway of our kids’ school. We started talking about our seniors, and she mentioned that her son’s 18th birthday was the next day. As she said it, her eyes immediately filled with tears. I acknowledged the milestone event and quickly changed the subject to help prevent us from embarrassing our darling students on their turf. Can you imagine two moms crying and hugging as the bell rings, releasing a wave of high schoolers into the open spaces around two hysterical moms? I say two, because I’m in the midst of an emotional season, so I’m a two-for-one deal with anything involving tears. If someone else cries, I will, too.
After my friend and I departed ways (safely before any gushing tears or witnesses), I began to feel a huge sense of relief. I wasn’t glad that she was upset about her baby growing up and leaving, but I realized that somebody else was experiencing the same emotions as I was. I was not alone. I’ve talked with many moms who have shared excitement about their kids going off to college and how that opens up opportunities for the parents for new jobs, hobbies, or travel. They seem to hold it all together, without even a hint of an emotional breakdown every time they mention the word college…or senior…or graduation. How do they do it? This is my fifth time being a high school senior’s mom. I feel like I should be the one offering advice about how to cope and telling parents that they shouldn’t feel sad. However, I find myself constantly trying not to think about what it will be like when my daughter is away at school. I swallow hard with a lump in my throat every time somebody points out that it’s her last school play or how much she’ll be missed not leading worship in chapel. I know they mean well, but it hurts my Mama heart having to face each moment before it arrives. I have to take it a day at a time, just as my friend does. I’m quite sure she celebrated her son’s birthday the next day filled with the joy and excitement of the moment. It’s the anticipation that hurts.
For me, the most difficult time is the last couple months of senior year. I can’t just face the changing future one day at a time like I want to when there are daily reminders about college. My daughter’s school sent home a notice that parents had one week to send in three photos of our seniors to for a graduation video–as a baby, middle schooler, and high schooler. Seriously? It’s not like any parent could possibly just quickly pick out a few favorite photos from an entire lifetime, is it? In the middle of my emotional overload, I was expected to somehow survive turning back the hands of time and reliving my graduating daughter’s entire life before sending her out into the world. I procrastinated as long as I could. That anticipation thing really is painful. When I forced myself to start looking through the old pictures, however, my daughter joined me and we actually enjoyed reminiscing. It was much sweeter and less tearful than I thought it would be.
The truth is, adjusting to a student leaving home really does get easier as the weeks go by. Just as my daughter will be making new friends and figuring out how to juggle homework, music rehearsals, and her social life, I will be learning to cook smaller meals, walk by her room without stopping in to see what she’s up to, and text instead of chatting in person. Before long, the adapting will gradually fade into a new normal. That happens with time. Before that next phase, though, please know you are not alone if you feel sad. You don’t have to feel guilty for not being overjoyed about your student leaving the nest. Adjusting to our new parenting roles is a difficult task for some of us and it doesn’t mean that we aren’t happy for our children’s endeavors or that we don’t trust God’s plans for them because we have inner turmoil. It just means we are human and facing change. Bittersweet is the word that I like to use to describe this transitional phase. It’s painful. It’s wonderful. It’s confusing. It’s sad. It’s joyful. It's whatever you are feeling, and that's okay. Embrace it and deal with it however works best for you, with God and other parents by your side. I can assure you, whichever emotions are taking over, you're not alone!
One of the most popular verses shared with students at graduation is Joshua 1:9, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” (ESV) That is a great reminder for the students, but certainly applies to us parents as well!
Join our Facebook Group, Encouragement for Parents of College Kids (Letting Go Letting God) Be sure to get your copy of Letting Go Letting God: 30 Day Devotional for Moms of College Freshmen. I'd love to hear from you with comments, questions, and prayer requests. Jena@lettinggolettinggod.com
Join the Encouragement for Parents of College Kids (Letting Go Letting God) Facebook group page for support, advice, discussions, prayer requests, and anything helpful for this transitioning time in parents’ lives! We’d love to have you! https://www.facebook.com/groups/345908439440134/