I have been there three times and it never is easy when your child goes off to college. Children are a gift from the Lord, Psalm 127:3 says “Behold, children are a gift of the LORD, The fruit of the womb is a reward,” (New American Standard Bible). What I have learned in sending my children off to college is that I never really appreciated the gift nearly as I should have and now they are gone.
We are often overwhelmed with our children when they are little and we are constantly second guessing ourselves and our parenting tactics, but most of us do believe that our children are a gift. Children grow up, however, and as parents we sort of work ourselves out of a job and that dreaded day comes when high school is over and our child leaves home. Some will go off to college and some will go to the military while others may simply begin a job and start making their own decisions and move away from home. Have we prepared them well to tackle the rigors of life? Time will only tell.
I remember when my first-born was preparing to go off to college. We lived in Heidelberg, Germany and she was going to college in the States. I thought my heart would break with her leaving. I was so thankful that my parents would be stateside and within five hundred miles of where she was attending college. I knew she would see them as often as she could and would have a home to go to during college breaks. I started to panic shortly after Christmas her senior year. Had I taught her everything she needed to know to survive on her own? I remember compiling a list of things I wanted to make sure she knew how to do.
First thing on my list was cooking. I wanted to make certain that she knew how to shop and prepare nutritious meals so that she didn’t starve. She was very handy in the kitchen and so I felt that I had prepared her at least somewhat in the cooking department. Strike that off my list.
Secondly I wanted her to know how to sew on a loose button or repair a rip in her pants. I wanted her to know how to wash her clothes and how to iron them and take care of them. I also tried to teach her how to use the dry cleaners and what clothing needed such a service. I made sure that she knew to wash whites and colors separately and in fact made her do her own laundry so that she would learn. She did very well in taking care of her clothes. Strike that off my list.
Next was how to be safe. Having been reared in the Military she knew all about good OPSEC (operational security) but did she know how to discern a good person from a not so good person? I worried about this and prayed about how to teach her. Finally I simply told her some stories from my own life experiences when I had been pretty vulnerable and silly and stupid. I hoped that she would learn from my mistakes and avoid making her own. Strike that off my list.
Finally I wanted to make certain that she was grounded in her faith in Jesus Christ and would not be vulnerable to cults or tactics of the world. This was something that I had tried to instill in all of my children life-long, but now I felt frightened that she would not go to church without my parental prompting. God reminded me that my daughter was becoming an adult and would be responsible for her own faith journey and that I could entrust her to Him.
I am sure that my eldest thought Mom had gone a little nuts and truthfully I probably did. Not only did my eldest leave for the United States but my husband left to go to Bosnia and I was left on a military post with my two remaining children and other families who were in similar situations as myself…far from home, strange country, and military spouse in a peacekeeping mission.
Through it all I prayed and made it and I can gladly report that my daughter made it also. She had some interesting experiences in her college years and she graduated and is a successful woman in a career today.
Four years later child number two was leaving to go to college, this time we were living in the States and this child was able to come home during college breaks. I still felt the panic of my child leaving, but I instituted the same list of things I wanted this child to learn and thankfully we made it through the transition from childhood to adulthood a little easier than when it was my first experience with such transition.
Four years after child number two went off to college it was my youngest daughter’s turn to go. I felt so alone after she left and I felt old. I had an empty nest for the first time in my life and it was just plain yucky feeling! I tried to make certain that she knew all the things she needed to know, but her leaving the home was hard for a few months. I had said goodbye to all my children and was now trying to find myself and what I was to do for the rest of my own life.
I believe that the empty nest was also bothering my husband at the time and that is why he wanted to adopt our young son. I felt too old to be Mommy again and so I balked at the idea. However, in the end we did adopt and now I have one more child to leave the nest and fly into adulthood, thankfully not for a while yet.
For you who are facing your first to leave home I want to encourage you that there is a life out there for you to live. You will survive and you will grow and begin to adjust to that empty spot at your table. But there are some things you can do to help with your pain in their going.
First of all, take good care of yourself, after all you still have a lot of years ahead of you and some of you may have other children at home to care for. I wish that I had done this, but I became ill and it was years before I recovered my health. If you do have other children then focus on them, they probably miss their sibling as well. Make this time special for them so that they feel loved by you. Also send some care packages to your child that has moved on because they probably miss you too but hate to admit it. Send them their favorite cookies or candy bars or something that reminds them you are thinking of them. Let them call you rather than you call them for the first few weeks, they are busy and you don’t need to steal their time from them. Most of all, pray for them and allow God to take care of them, we have an awesome God who can handle whatever is ahead and will help you handle it too.
For you who are lonely, remember that Jesus felt lonely sometimes too while he was away from his Father. He spent time in prayer with God, his Father, and was comforted. Perhaps you can spend some time in prayer and find comfort as well.
Until next time……Katherine