I woke up this morning… feeling an urgent sadness. I lay in bed, aware that both of our children were safely sleeping in the bedrooms above ours. Then I remembered one of those beds would be empty in a few days. Because our son is leaving for college.
Do you think about the day your children will leave?
Does your child’s impending departure cause your tears to well up… and your heart to sink down? Would you rather ignore the looming departure day? Do you want to lose yourself in the best days of baby smiles and bike rides? Or, would you like to be prepared? Prepared for your child’s send-off to go well–with your babies equipped to do some good in the world? I think we all want to be prepared, but we’re not sure how to get there.
Since THAT day has come for us, I’ve decided to turn our son’s departure into a gift for other parents. Parents who represent my past or are facing my present. We parents–all of us–need to be prepared to help our kids leave. And, to LEAVE WELL.
In the 18 years my husband and I have been raising our son, Otis, I’ve dreaded this day. Throughout the years, I’ve cheered our Otis on… in throwing footballs and making baskets, in catching fish and conquering mountains, in defending bullied students and apologizing to those he’s hurt. I’ve faithfully watched and applauded his academic honors and athletic achievements. And now, it feels like it’s over. No more clapping hands or congratulatory hugs. No more proud ceremonies or quiet snuggles. No more teachable moments or life lessons to pass onto our son. The end of an era, as parents.
Maybe you dread your end-of-an-era. But, take heart… moms and dads. In some ways, this is the day you work for the entire time your kids are growing up. You are raising them to grow UP and move OUT. To move out into a world that needs help from children raised well. But, how? How do you raise them to leave well?
I don’t have perfect answers or fail-safe techniques. But, I can offer honest memories of mistakes I’ve made and things I’d do differently. Things I’d do less and things I’d do more. Bottom line, I want my firstborn to leave home with a strong base and sturdy roots. A base of love, strength, wisdom, hope and humility, steadied by roots of faith. I want this for your child too. So, here goes…
3 parenting tips before your child leaves home
- DON’T LET PRIDE LURK behind your parenting: Sometimes, when we correct, scold or discipline our kids, it comes from a place of pride. For instance, when my son or daughter blatantly disobeys or ignores my instructions, I can react in anger because I feel disrespected. My reaction reflects my hurt more than their disobedience. Instead, I must remove my pride from the situation; I must discipline based on what will best instruct my child for future behavior… not lash out based on my hurt pride. So don’t let pride be your reason for yelling, scolding, correcting or instructing. And, a quick note here about pride IN your child. Obviously, it’s good for a parent to regularly tell their child when he or she has done something well. However, we should avoid making our child feel superior (this is something I’ve done occasionally). When I can, I try to compliment my kids without belittling others in comparison.
- HAVE COURAGE to follow through on your convictions: My husband and I usually enforce rules that reflect our convictions. For instance, we’re convicted that intimacy and marriage are serious and sacred. So, our kids aren’t allowed to have cellphones until they’re 15 to help them avoid inappropriate texts, snap chats or direct messages from the opposite sex (it still happens after they turn 15). We didn’t allow our son to have a Facebook page (back when teenagers actually used Facebook) for the same reason. And, we don’t let our kids date until they’re 16 because we don’t want them to have an early introduction to casual sex, detached from serious commitment. However, I fall down on my convictions when it comes to certain music and media. I’ve allowed my kids to listen to profane songs and watch way-too-mature movies. I’ve let them watch too much TV, promoting questionable values. I’ve allowed them to gossip, partake in rumors and say unkind things about others. While I don’t recommend that you become the conviction police, I’d recommend you impose rules that reflect your convictions. You’ll have fewer regrets.
- Practice FAITH, HOPE and LOVE:
- Let’s start with HOPE. I wish I would’ve passed more of it onto my son. I wanted to protect him, so I taught him to fear the worst. I would send him out the door with cautionary tales of what could go wrong and how he should avoid it (I practically wrapped him in bubble wrap every time he went outside). I’d warn him about bad people and harmful situations. I’d admonish him to put safety above all else. I think I may have taught him to look for the negative first. I see, now, that he goes to negative interpretations too quickly. I blame myself. I wish I would’ve passed on a different outlook–something more like, “be careful, son, but always have hope.”
- LOVE. I’m a mom who tells my kids EVERY day that I love them. As a result, my kids say “I love you” to me (and others) on a daily basis. Expressions of love come easily for them. I think that’s something I passed along well. But, when it comes to my son, I wish I would’ve assured him of my actual love through more than words. You see, Otis was almost four when his sister was born; and, he immediately witnessed his mom turning her attention away from him to care for his baby sister. My husband tells me Otis looked shell-shocked for days after Georgia was born. I now wish I would’ve nipped that in the bud. I could’ve pumped my breast milk, handed our baby girl off to my husband, and gone on more mother-son outings. We could’ve left our daughter with a sitter once-a-month to take Otis out for his own special time with mom and dad. Figure out where your kids are yearning for love and fill that void–in the most healthy way possible.
- FAITH. No matter where you come from on matters of faith, give your child a shot at it. Give them the opportunity to believe in a perfect Creator who loves them. Offer them a glimpse of God. I happen to believe the lesson of Jesus is best–that God gave us the gift of sacrificial love by paying the most torturous price. Children will quickly grasp that there is no greater love. With this idea of love in mind, your children will be empowered to pass it on. We need children who grow up to be world-changers through the power of faith, hope and love.
BONUS TIP: Bless your children. I say a blessing over my children almost every night. The blessing usually occurs in their bedrooms by their bedsides. I get down on my knees and utter a prayer of thanksgiving for each child–for their best qualities (naming them out loud), asking God to guide them to use their gifts to serve Him and others. With some blessings, I refer to scripture that applies to their lives. But, with every blessing, I remind each child they’re loved by us and by God.
So today, I bless my son one more time before he goes to college. Thank you, God, for making Otis fearfully and wonderfully to serve others and serve You. Thank You for choosing me to be his mom. I will love him always… from here to eternity.