Remember when your kids were babies and how hard it was to leave them in someone else’s care the very first time? Torn between thinking you might die if you didn’t get back right away and knowing you’d go crazy if you didn’t have just a few minutes to yourself, this first outing away from your baby was a milestone for letting go. For me, the next one happened in pre school. Each child so different, our oldest had no interest in going any sooner than he had to, our middle one fine either way, and our youngest couldn’t wait to get out the door and find her people. As shy as the oldest was not wanting to be away from me, our youngest had a world to explore and a school to master. After a few years of preschool it would seem the transition to kindergarten would be easier in my heart. But instead, that step in their lives made me realize that for the rest of my child’s growing years, they would spend equal or more time away from me awake than with me. That meant that an entirely new group of grown ups would play pivotal roles in partnering with us to shape this little people into the adults we hoped they would be. And that try as I might, I can’t control the people who come into their lives or the experiences they will have with them.
Now when it comes to middle and high school, its an entirely different story. These years are a mixed bag of push and pull, your child wanting you close but shutting you out while his or her teachers and administrators demand more of them and make it clear its time for less of you. If you’ve raised a student through high school who plays sports, you’ve heard it loud and clear from his coach that if you ask questions about playing time or another teammate your child can bank on sitting. Harsh? No. All about your child taking charge of their relationships and success? Absolutely. In today’s cut throat academic world, you’d be hard pressed to find a teacher who will welcome your pleads to raise a grade without proof that a grade was either scored or logged incorrectly. But they will welcome you with open arms to work at home with your child to make sure they are on track with study skills so there aren’t any end of semester surprises. And they’ll always take your support in the form of supplies that never seem to get donated much after elementary school.
We are in the spring of our oldest child’s senior year of high school. I find myself equal parts SO incredibly excited for him to take this next step in his life and yet totally caught off guard at how emotional I am about him leaving. We all expect he’ll be here for summers and breaks if he isn’t interning outside our hometown, but no matter how ready we both might be, letting go so he can grow is incredibly hard for me. I could not be more proud of who he is today, having faced challenges and overcoming them with hard work and perseverance. And despite the typical teen parent dance of making sure he finishes his laundry or remembers to take care of certain chores, I am confident he will do so well away from home. He’s got a strong sense of who he is and what he wants in life and I can’t wait to see it unfold for him.
But I am realizing that I never really imagined so many things about him as an adult. Sports are a great example ~ I never really imagined his life outside baseball. He has played the game for 14 years ~ its what he has loved and asked to do for as long as I can remember. And yet he is not planning to play in college and we fully support that. We have made sure that he’s had ample opportunity to test the waters to find out if being a collegiate athlete is what he wants to dominate his college experience. Its an incredibly demanding life and very little true scholarship money so it always had to be about his dreams and desires. Stepping back to let him drive that process was one of the hardest things we’ve done because it is the delicate balance between letting your child make their own choices and knowing that if they don’t pursue certain opportunities, they may never have the chance to do them again. This season of choices is where your child learns to live without regret and its not an easy lesson to teach
Choosing a college is another great example. My husband and I have made all of our children’s school decisions, from deciding where to buy a home to attending a private school, the school choice has never been one that we involved the kids in. But whether you realize it or not, your child’s high school academics and college entrance exams play a huge role in defining your child’s school choices. And so should your child. Our son will attend college with support from us but he’ll be paying his way as well. That puts us in a partnership about what is affordable for the team yet ultimately, we need to listen to his instincts about where he thinks he will thrive. We have had to be ever mindful that his college decision is not where we want to go to school (and oh how I wish I could attend some of the schools he has toured!) Its not about what we think school should be like ~ after all its been a LONG time since I went to college and I’ll leave it at that. Its about where he sees himself succeeding independently of his family, still tethered in a loose yet ever more independent kind of way.
I have realized I never thought about how it would really feel to start this process of letting go again so my child can grow. I never thought about how important it would be to me not to miss a single game when for as long as I can remember, we’ve always juggled the schedule so at least one parent could be there. I never thought about how hard it would be to say yes to a trip with friends that will take him away from us for 10 days this summer while I’m counting every one as cherished and making sure to spend as much time as I can with him. I never thought about holidays spent apart until this trip fell over 4th of July and for the first time in 19 years, he won’t be with us on a holiday. And I can’t bring myself to think about him being gone for months at a time, his room tidy and waiting for him to come home and drop his book bag, toss his laundry on the edge of its basket, and plug in his IPhone to check messages from his friends after he raids the fridge for all its glory.
My children are my soul. After almost 19 years with our oldest, I never thought about my world without him physically near me every day. And right now, letting go so he can grow is more painful than its ever been for me. I am so grateful that for him, it is not.