I was chatting with a neighbor the other day and noticed that as I spoke, he was becoming increasingly uncomfortable. I wasn’t pontificating on anything controversial, I was sharing that our youngest child graduated from high school and it was OK. With two kids not yet in middle school, he wasn’t ready to hear such parental heresy as this — that it’s OK to have kids setting off on their own and not be a mess.
I understood. And I stopped talking. I remember that feeling. Just eight years ago, my oldest graduated from eighth grade and embarked on his high school career. High school was still a scary place in my imagination. Teenagers are large and loud. High school brings independence to a new level and while the high school my kids attended is small, it’s larger than the safe, sweet cocoon of middle and elementary school.
What troubled me most was that everyone said the high school years would go quickly. Everyone is right. The past eight years flew by and my three kids conquered high school. Those large loud teens now seem much smaller and less intimidating once you live with a few.
High school graduation didn’t launch us into a great wall of darkness as I’d envisioned. It wasn’t an end to my role as a mother or our togetherness as a family. It was an end to some stuff that admittedly got annoying over the years like signing permission slips — so many permission slips, and who can find the date of the last tetanus shot — and calling the school when someone was sick, something I increasingly forgot to do as the years rolled on.
More importantly, high school graduation is a beginning. It’s the beginning of the next step for a child, whether it’s college, trade school or work. I’ve learned that when my kids go off to school — even if it’s in a far-flung place — they are still my kids. They still need parenting (although to a lesser degree) and they are doing exactly what they should be doing, which allows my husband and I to do exactly what we should be doing.
We’ve been told that if we raise our kids right, they leave the proverbial nest to go build their own. When we are still in the thick of parenting, this is unfathomable. The idea of our darlings being out in the world is mildly terrifying.
But God is so good. He’s got this figured out. I’m convinced that some of the turmoil that accompanies the teenage years is purposefully designed by our heavenly Father to make it so it’s OK when they take off — for both them and us. They are designed to get to a point where they are willing to leave a pretty good gig (free food, free housing, free laundry) to go live somewhere less nice where they have more responsibility to care for themselves.
We are designed to be OK with this. As much as I have loved being a mom for the past 22 years, there’s stuff about this job I am ready to be done with. As the past four years have unfolded, my husband and I are getting a taste of what post-active parenting looks like, and there are some real upsides. There’s some definite freedom we are beginning to enjoy and we’ve learned that this freedom doesn’t come at the cost of no longer having children. We still have three kids and we still need to guide them, but we also have three young adults who are really fun to be with. Our relationship with them is becoming more balanced — no longer just us giving all the time. They give, too. It’s especially lovely when they cook dinner.
They bring new and interesting perspectives. It’s exciting to watch their lives grow deeper and richer as they find their paths, and it’s gratifying to hear those nuggets of appreciation they toss our way.
There are absolutely times when I miss having a houseful of kids, and there are times when I see photos of them as munchkins and my heart feels a sad tug. But I’m choosing not to dwell on that. I acknowledge those feelings but I won’t let them define me. Ever since they were born, I’ve asked God for help raising them. He has been with me the whole way, and he’s still here as we enter another new phase of life. He’s helping me appreciate the past and hold it near while also looking forward to a new future for all of us. Yes, my job is to raise those kids to leave the nest, but that doesn’t mean they are out of my life. It just means that our lives are moving on, looking a little different but still good.
And it’s OK.