Oh, boy…I’ve done it now. I’ve become one of those stodgy old women that looks at you smiling when you’re in the grocery store with your screaming toddler. You’re ready to rip the kid’s head off if they don’t shut up and you hear this quiet little voice that says “Enjoy them while they’re young because before you know it they will be grown and gone.” In the back of your mind you say, “Yeah…right, lady.” while you smile back on the outside.
I know all too well how this goes because I used to be the one with the toddler. Now I’m the old lady. When did this happen? How often have you thought any of the following:
- “My life will be so much less hectic when I don’t have so many school programs to attend!”
- “I can’t wait until the day we are DONE having to make Valentine’s boxes!”
- “I’m so tired of chasing toddlers around! When I don’t have to worry about them getting into things all the time, I will be so relieved!”
The list could go on and on, and I would know, because I have thought all of these things at one point or another. Please don’t get me wrong, though, I have loved having kids from the moment they arrived to the present. Not only that, but I have loved every single stage of having kids, including (and maybe even especially) when they were teenagers. Every single stage of parenting has had it’s ups and downs, the pros and cons, and even though I had those moments when I was exhausted and ready to throw in the towel, I loved them all. But over the last several years I have discovered the absolute hardest stage of parenting: letting them go.
“I don’t want my son to leave.”
Around the time that Dylan was graduating from high school and we were getting ready for him to leave on his mission I started to see a change in Patrick. He became a little withdrawn and quiet. I was thinking about all the things that had to be done, and he didn’t seem to want to be involved with any of it.
Then one Sunday he told me he had an appointment with the bishop, so I waited for him after church and we rode home together. He told me in the car that day how distressed he was about having Dylan leave, and those are the words he said to me. “I don’t want my son to leave.” I will never forget them, because in that one sentence he conveyed all the anxiety and heartbreak he was feeling. It seems he was not able to come to grips with the idea that we were basically done raising Dylan at this point. He would leave and eventually come home, but things would never be the same again.
Shortly after that, the whole dust-up with Dylan’s mission call happened (a story for another day) and all of Dylan’s plans got put on hold for an entire year. At the time I tried to tell myself there was something for Dylan to do here before he left, or maybe there was something that needed to take place in the mission field before he needed to be there. As I look back on it now, I sometimes wonder if his delay didn’t happen because Heavenly Father needed to prepare Patrick for the leaving. Maybe we all needed the extra time to prepare.
Fortunately or unfortunately, they all leave.
This last week we moved Savannah off to college. She is living close to where I lived when I was attending college, so it was kind of fun to remember those days. But as we moved her I was a giant ball of horribly mixed emotions and didn’t really know how to react. On one hand, I am so excited for her to start this new chapter because my college days were the best ever, and I know she is going to have so much fun. Then again, I am a little frightened for her too, because I know she will struggle and things will be really difficult at times. It’s all part of the package–she will learn, grow, struggle and have the time of her life as she figures out who she is and where she is going.
But there is another mixed emotion for me as well–I am sad she is gone, but I am also happy she is gone. The fact that she is excited to move on with life and feels the confidence it takes to do so tells me that I did something right. They say that you know you’ve done your job as a parent when your child grows up and no longer needs you. I hope she still needs me a little bit, but I also hope she has learned a lot of what she needs to know to make good choices and move forward.
Regardless of all of this, I apparently am not done worrying about her night and day just yet.
Her first weekend down there, she started her new job. She had told me she was scheduled to work from 5 p.m. to midnight, and I was having a hard time with the fact that I would not know whether or not she made it home safely. I asked her to please text me or call me when she was off so I wouldn’t worry all night. I then plopped myself on the couch with the TV remote to wait it out.
Midnight came and went. No messages or calls. Pretty soon it’s 12:30 and still no phone call. I start to wonder if maybe her phone is dead, so close to 1 a.m, I called. I figured if her phone was dead it would go straight to voice mail, so at least I would know. It didn’t go to voicemail, but it did prompt her to text me to say she was still working. I reminded her that I was waiting up and to please not forget to call.
Fast forward two and a half more hours: I am texting her and she is not responding. I have not received a phone call. I am a mother. These things all combine and form the perfect storm of panic, leaving me shaking and freaking out and crying on the couch. I was sure that she had forgotten to call, had gone home to a dark scary parking lot alone, had been forced to park a million miles from her apartment, and on the walk in had been nabbed, dragged into the bushes where she was viciously raped and murdered.
While all of this was happening, Patrick was sleeping. SLEEPING!!! So not only was I worried about her, I was mad at him. How can any respectable parent sleep while their only daughter is out being raped and murdered in some dark parking lot, her body just laying there is the dirt, soon to be covered up by the newly falling leaves as the seasons change? I was ready to put my clothes on and go looking for her, but instead I woke up Patrick by storming around the bedroom throwing something of a mini-tantrum.
I told him I still hadn’t heard from her and finally he joined me in my panic. He got up and called her phone, again to see if it had died. This time she answered and she was mad.
“I can’t talk! I’M WORKING!” That’s all she said.
At 4:06 a.m. I got a text that said “I’m home safe. I love you guys. I’ll call you tomorrow when I wake up.”
Apparently I need to work on my apron-string-cutting just a bit.
Train up a child in the way they should go, and when they are grown they will not depart from it.
Growing up in the LDS church, we’ve all heard this about a million times. Sadly, as much as I want it to be true, sometimes it isn’t that simple. There are times when, despite our best efforts, our kids will choose differently than we wish they would.
I have a child that is struggling to find his way right now, and I know family members and friends that are experiencing similar times. We ask ourselves often what we did wrong and how do we fix it. We lose sleep as we try to find the one thing we can say or do that might make a difference and put them back on the path that we want for them. I know that for me personally, I have spent countless hours reviewing the past and asking myself what I might have done differently that would have made the difference for today.
Sadly, the truth is, we all do the best we can, we all make mistakes, and our kids will too. All we can do is love them and pray for them that they will find their way. And even though we disagree with their decision, we still have to let them make it. They will learn and grow and probably suffer a little (or a lot) in the process, and it hurts to watch, but it’s unavoidable. I certainly don’t have this mastered, so if anyone has good advice on how to get through it, I’m all ears.
Enjoy your kids when they’re young. Before you know it, you’ll blink and they will be gone and your parenting role will change.
There. I said it again. Go ahead and roll your eyes at me if you must, but treasure up every moment, because more good moments are coming, and I don’t know about you, but I’d rather anticipate what’s next than regret what’s over.