This fall my 18 year-old son, my first-born, my newly minted young adult, will be leaving home to start university. I have never been an overly protective mother. Over the years, he has often left home, even for extended times. At 8 years old, he spent a week with members of our extended family whom he barely knew.
After that there were vacations with his best friend’s family, 2-week ski trips with his French elementary school, excursions to Quebec with his French class, and to Mexico on mission trips, all without me along. I always knew that my role was to “let go” and encourage him to try his wings so that when the day came for him to become independent, he would be ready. For years I have been progressively working myself out of a job, or at least gradually changing my job description.
First, the Universal Questions.
But am I ready? The distant deadline somehow always approaches far too rapidly. All parents experience this, but does that make it any easier? Joel Achenbach, in his touching blog post, Last-minute bonding to make up for lost time wrote, “It’s not true that kids grow up fast. What is true is that it seems fast if you’re paying too much attention to other stuff.” After all the years of reminding our much younger daughter that we had years together ahead of us before Josh left for college, we now find ourselves hurtling toward the day.
I talk to other moms a little ahead of me on this journey, and I realize that I am the Universal Mother asking the Universal Questions. Will he wake up in the morning and get to class? Will he eat properly? Will he so enjoy the taste of freedom that he will forget why he has gone to college? Will he wash his sheets? Will he think to call me occasionally, or will I be reduced to reading his Facebook posts to learn that he is off rock climbing?
Then there are the Important Questions.
Will he be safe, going from a small town where we don’t always lock the front door, to living in a big city? Will he make wise choices about priorities, money, and friends? Will we still enjoy the complicity that now exists between us? Will he continue to walk with God? Will the new ideas he will be exposed to shake his faith or help him to go deeper still?
I think back to my own departure at 18. Was my mom sad or worried? Probably, but I don’t remember. I was too excited about starting college, growing up, and the anticipation of new friends and new adventures to pay much attention. And while Josh admitted recently that his excitement is also tinged with a little anxiety, I’m betting that it won’t be long before he is immersed in this new world.
I will miss him terribly, but would I really prefer that he only aspire to stay here, in the safety and security of our home? The idea behind the movie Failure to Launch is comical, but not so entertaining for real-life parents whose adult son is still living in the basement playing video games. I don’t want him to be too fearful to step out by faith, on his own. This is exactly the goal I had in mind as I raised him. I say to myself, often, “This is good and right. This is how it should be.” I can’t stop him from growing up, and I shouldn’t try either. But I can prepare him for the day that we say good-bye. This is ultimately not about me. It is about him, his future, and his life. I need to let him live it.