She stepped one foot out of the car and her face lit up. “What do you think?” I smiled at my 16-year-old daughter and watched her take in the surroundings—the brick campus buildings, the tree-lined walking paths, the lakeside view.
“I like it,” she grinned.
My heart swelled with momma joy while, at the same time, that weird tingly feeling threatened to clamp my throat with tears. I wrapped an arm around my girl, my firstborn, and said, “Let’s do this.”
This was just the second campus visit of our daughter’s junior year. We’re starting early, taking our time checking out a few top-choice schools she’s had in mind for months. It’s all part of growing up, of raising a child to fly with confidence toward the person God designed her to be.
For her it’s exciting.
For her Dad and me, it’s both exciting and heartbreaking.
Remember when the kids were small, and well-meaning veteran parents told us, “Raising littles is physically exhausting, but raising older kids is emotionally exhausting”?
I get it now.
It’s not just that the kids have emotional struggles and needs. But we parents do, too.
So for anyone else who’s walking alongside me on the journey toward letting our big kids go, here are a few things I’m doing to prepare my own heart and my daughter’s heart for what’s ahead. Maybe these thoughts can encourage you as we brave this road together.
- Focus on the excitement, not the sorrow. One of the best gifts my parents ever gave me was their enthusiasm for my college plans. I chose a school six hours from home, and while I was focused on the new adventure, my parents never let on that my leaving was a source of heartache for them.
I realize it now, of course, but back then my parents didn’t allow their emotions to become a hindrance to my excitement. They supported me every step of the way. I want to do the same for my kids.
On one hand, seeing my daughters leave will flatten my heart to schnitzel, but on the other hand, it’s what we raised them to do. So I will not let my emotions cause my kids to feel guilty for growing up. I’ve been their biggest cheerleader through every stage of childhood, and that’s not going to stop now.
- Give our kids access to all the information they need. My husband and I are taking an active role in helping our daughter research colleges, and we’ve told her we’ll take her to visit any school she wants to see. We ask meaningful questions about what kind of environment she’s looking for, what type of ideologies she’s willing to endure, and how she plans to stay connected to Jesus while she’s away at school. We’re preparing her now for the realities of the world, simply by prompting her to consider who she is and what she wants to become.
Can any of us know for sure what new ideas and doubts our daughter will face once she leaves the house? No. But one thing we do know is that she has to make her faith her own. So we’re doing our job as parents by continuing to equip her with the truth and love of God, while also entrusting her to Him, as we’ve done through every stage of her childhood. This one is a little more nerve-wracking since it’ll be happening outside of our walls, but letting go is a practice of our own faith, too.
- Dream with the kids. This one is the most fun. When the kids were little, it was entertaining to hear them describe what they wanted to be when they grew up. At age three our older daughter couldn’t decide between becoming a baker, a teacher, or a Walmart checkout girl. Our younger daughter spent a year intent on becoming a ninja.
But now that they’re teens and formulating adult visions for their futures, we’re having a blast imagining the possibilities together. Nursing or education? Elementary ed or music ed? While visiting campuses for big sister’s benefit, little sister is checking out the science departments and researching which universities offer the best zoology programs. It’s becoming a fun family pursuit to discover the girls’ God-given interests and match those to potential careers.
Which brings me to my final and most overarching thought. God designed our kids with intention, purpose, and love. Isn’t it a privilege to see His plan for their lives start to take shape beyond childhood? I want to focus on gratitude during these last years of high school. I give gratitude to God for entrusting these beautiful children to my husband and me, and gratitude to my kids for teaching me what it means to love someone unconditionally like Jesus does.
So over these next many months as we tour more schools, navigate the application and financial aid process, and hunt for dorm room supplies… if you’re also in my shoes, will you pray with me for God to guide the journey for us all?
And if your kiddos are still small, then hug them tight. Watch a Veggie Tales movie, even if it’s for the hundredth time. Because one day you’re going to wake up and you won’t even know it’s the last time your kids ask to watch Larry Boy.
Every stage of parenting is a gift.
Let’s unwrap them with a heart of thankfulness toward the Giver, amen?
Cheering for you,