Last weekend, my husband and I entered a new phase in our lives when we dropped our son off for his freshman year of college. Our daughter moved to New York earlier in August to attend theatre school. We are now officially empty nesters.
So how do I feel about it all? I can’t say yet. Partly I want to throw a party to celebrate and partly I want to cry. It makes it harder that they both have birthdays in the next two weeks. Those will be the first birthdays not celebrated at home. You spend years teaching your children how to leave home, but that doesn’t mean it is easy when they do.
What would I tell parents who are still in the middle of carpools and science fair projects and ear infections?
It’s a cliché to say this, but those years really do go by fast. I remember thinking I would never get here, but now that I have, all I remember is a blur. Wasn’t it just yesterday I was charging after my naked toddler as he ran out of the house? Wasn’t it last week I was thinking I would never get him potty-trained?
Every soccer game we sat through in the pouring rain, every ball game in the searing heat, every outdoor Christmas concert in the freezing cold was worth it. Every thunderstorm or nightmare that had little feet running into our room in the middle of the night, every midnight call for comfort, every night spent taking temperatures and cleaning up vomit was worth it.
Sometimes, as hard as it is, you have to let your children fail. As I watch my children now, I see that those were the times they grew the most. The times I didn’t rush to help, the times I let them think through their own solutions are the times that gave them the confidence to make good decisions later.
My husband and I grew up in homes where we attended church every Sunday so it was a no-brainer when we had kids that we would do that. This was before I went to seminary and became a children’s minister. It was important to us to give our children a foundation of faith. But when they graduated from high school we gave them the freedom to decide for themselves. “Train a child in the way he should go and when old he will not stray from it.” (Proverbs 22:6)
We taught them how to treat us as they watched how we treat our own parents. We lost my mother-in-law last year, and now my mother is on hospice care. My father-in-law got married last month, and though none of us was thrilled, we all attended the wedding because that is what you do for family. Through it all, we treated our parents with love and respect and showed our kids how to treat us when we are at that stage in life.
Most important is remembering that none of us is perfect. I know for sure I am not. But I have forgiven myself for my shortcomings and I pray that each one of you does too. Forgive yourself for every word said out of frustration and fatigue. Forgive yourself that you aren’t the Martha Stewart mom or the goes-on-every-field-trip mom or the SuperPTA mom. Just be who you are and love your kids. And never forget that you are wholly and truly loved, always and everywhere — even when you forgot once again to send the money for the trip to the Perot Museum.
And that’s Good News!