Tuesday, September 8, 2015

When the President's Struggles Look Very Much Like Mine

Earlier this summer the New York Times ran an article about President Obama’s recent show of emotion in which he admitted to unexpected tears over his soon-to-be empty nest.

The Times reported, “Mr. Obama has admitted that he has been blindsided recently by fits of sadness, many of them prompted by the thought of his daughters — 14-year-old Sasha, who graduated this month from middle school, and 16-year-old Malia, who will go to college next year — growing up.”

I get it, Mr. Obama. I really get it. Funny how they do that, isn’t it? Grow up?

And how we parents have no say in the matter. It’s really unfair.

And yet . . . our kids will grow up and leave us one of these days. It’s just a simple fact of life that not only they, but we also, have to get used to. Even the President isn't pardoned from this one.

It seems that in my stage of life many of my friends are going through the same thing. We’re bracing ourselves for the inevitable, almost like bracing yourself for a head-on collision or a plane crash, which is exactly what this feels like sometimes. We’re just holding on for dear life.

I received an email recently from a friend who is struggling with many of the same emotions that President Obama has confessed. Her oldest left for college a few weeks ago, and she realized that her family would not look the same again, not even be under the same roof again, for a long time.

My friend said that she’s just not sure how she’s going to do it, how she’s going to be O.K. amidst all the change going on in her family, because, as she honestly admitted, “I don’t feel O.K. right now.”

Oh boy, do I ever get that. I really do.


Sometime about halfway through my motherhood journey I recognized this little habit I had developed. I realized that periodically throughout each day I did a mental check of where each of my children were, physically. I’m a visual person anyway, and picturing where each of them was at any given moment gave me a sense of stability, like the ground underneath me was still firm.

It was much easier to conduct my mental geographical checks when the girls were younger. Their elementary school was right around the corner from our home; I even knew where they sat in each classroom. Middle school and high school got a little trickier because I didn’t know where, specifically, they were throughout the day, but at least I knew the halls they were roaming.

In college, the mental checks became even more difficult—I knew they were at school and not somewhere else in the country—but the geographical checking in started to loosen its hold on me, even though my kids were never far from my thoughts.

The fact of the matter is I don't know where my kids are all the time. I can't possibly. 

I fool myself into thinking that by mentally checking in I have some small bit of control. The truth is, I don’t have any control. None. And I never really have.

And that’s exactly when the ground shifts beneath our feet, doesn't it? When we realize we don’t know exactly where our kids are every minute of the day. Or when we begin to recognize that they have formed opinions different from our own. Or when we send them off to foreign countries and they choose to stay.

We glance around at our family landscape and we see that this tribe that we have grown, watered, and nourished for the past 18 years will never look exactly the same again. It’s like the ground was never really firm beneath us, only made of sand that is now wet and slowly moving underneath our feet, morphing into a new shape.

Our kids grow up. They grow out. They grow away.

My job is to prepare, to love, and to loosen my grip.


I've read lots and lots of posts lately from sad parents sending their kids off to college. Some, especially the first timers, sound almost despairing:

I just dropped my baby off at college and cried for the entire 15 hour drive home.

What will my life be without my child here?

Who will I become if I don't have to do his laundry?

Come home, little bird! Come home!

I will never say it is easy, this letting go. Plenty of moments I have to stop, take a deep breath, and give myself a little pep talk that goes something like this: “You’ve done well. Your kids are prepared. This is what you’ve raised them for, so step back and watch them fly.” 

(And a whole lot of other back and forth that I won’t go into now lest you think I am a complete lunatic.)

Sometimes the pep talk works; sometimes it doesn’t.

When the pep talk fails, I go back to playing the "where are they?" game. Ridiculous.

Parents, our grown up kids don't need us to keep track of them every minute of the day. They don't need us to visit them at school during the first month (hear me, mama?). They really don't need us to call them every day (I once had a student whose mom called him five times a day!). And they certainly don't need us to show up and do their laundry (they should know how to do that by now).

You know what our kids really need? More than anything, our kids need our prayers. Because here's what I know, what is more sure than my daughters' location on this earth, more comforting that thinking I have done anything to keep them "safe." God hears me. He hears every mournful sigh I breathe. He hears every plea on their behalf. And he answers. I've seen it.

Another thing I know, more certain than the sun coming up each morning: He knows my kids. He knows their dreams. He knows what they yearn for. He knows what their strengths are. And He loves them so much more than I ever could, so I can be confident He will do what's best for them. 

To President Obama and my dear friend, here’s what I would tell you about your kids: You have loved them well. They are prepared. This is what you’ve raised them for. Now step back, let go, and watch them fly.

They are going to be just fine.

And so are you.

1 comment:

  1. Your post is an answer to prayer, Shelly. I so needed this today. Our daughter got married on 7/14/15, and they are leaving tomorrow morning for San Diego, California where he is now going to be stationed in the Marine Corps (he got new orders 11 days before the wedding changing his orders from Virginia to California). My daughter is so excited. She has arranged for an apartment, is ordering furniture, making a list of all the things they will need, and packing the car. She can't wait to begin their married life together live in California. My heart is broken. I miss her already. I'll be brutally honest here and say that I cried Sunday morning on my way home from church. I pulled into the garage, sat in the car with my forehead on the steering wheel and asked God to speak to me and assure me that everything was going to be O.K. That all of this was part of His plan. I got in the house, started fixing lunch, and bawled my eyes out again. Soul wrenching cries that I KNOW my God heard. I know every parent faces letting go of their child. I get that. I just never realized it would hurt so bad. I too have told myself that God loves her even more than I do. That the sense of loss I feel now will fade. Sometimes that helps, and sometimes it doesn't. My sister reminded me that God gives us exactly what we need when we need it. And I know that tomorrow morning, when I see their tail lights pulling out of our driveway, that my God will meet me right where I am, and that He will give me His strength and His peace. I would appreciate your prayers, Shelly, prayers for me, and prayers for Alex and Cole as they are driving from Missouri to California. I want to handle this transition to "empty nester" with grace, and always bringing glory to Him. Thank you so much for sharing your heart with me this morning. God knew that I needed this reminder today. Blessings to you and your husband and your girls. I am praying for your family today.