Her apron still lingers on the wall next to mine. The faint scent of her perfume isn’t gone, but she is. Yesterday I broke down in the car on the way home. My ten-year-old son immediately noticed my swollen eyes and wet face, even though I had fought to keep the tears silent. With the maturity of an adult, he patted my shoulder and softly shared, “I know, Mom. We have all been crying too.”
That night I broke down in front of my husband. “Everything is different now,” I sobbed. He tried nobly to comfort me while barely restraining tears of his own. Our oldest child, our little girl, moved out last week for college. She is on her own now, and the worst part of it all? She likes it. While she is exhilarated with her independence, I feel like someone has slain my soul. Why didn’t anyone warn me this was coming? Oh, wait. They did. But there were no words to prepare me for this. Some things you just have to experience yourself.
My little girl and I used to eat ice cream together, back when she was young. Those were the days she used to say that when she grew up she would live next door. Have you ever noticed something about the mixed flavors of soft-serve ice cream? You can’t tell exactly where the chocolate ends and turns into vanilla. You can see the individual flavors, but they blur together. I am like that these days: a mixture of distinct emotions. Like a rainbow-swirled soft serve, I’m grieved because I don’t want to let go of her. I’m bursting with pride at her accomplishments, I’m excited for her future, l’m angry at . . . Well, I don’t know at exactly what, but I’m angry. I don’t want to let her go, but I do want to let her go. I’m so confused, so swirled together, you can’t see where one emotion ends and another begins.
On the other hand, this experience is nothing like soft serve because there is nothing soft about it. Completely devoid of gentleness, her leaving feels more like hot-wax hair removal, without mercy, ripping my heart out in one fell stroke.
Still, God has not left me in my pain. He has already begun to soothe the wound with the salve of truth: She was never fully mine. In stewardship, He entrusted her daddy and me to care for her. She still belongs to her heavenly Father, Who will continue to care for her. While the grief may never leave completely, there is much hope for the future. I will leave that apron hanging on the wall to remind me of the days ahead when she will come home to visit, the memories yet to be made, and the many ice creams to be shared.
Three Tips to Share With Those Whose Children Are Leaving Home
- Nurture your marriage relationship. This is not the time to cling to the one who is leaving but rather to cleave to the one with whom you were created to be. (Genesis 2:24)
- Don’t expect your child to understand how hard it is on you. My husband’s parents told him that when he left for boot camp at the age of eighteen, he got on the bus and never looked back—not once. It broke their hearts. He didn’t understand what the big deal was. Here he is at forty-eight. Now he understands. (Proverbs 14:10)
- Reconsider your ministries. Look again at your spiritual gifts. Is this a time to sharpen some skills or dive into a new area of ministry? Remember: Our purpose in life, to glorify God, has not changed. God has lots of other work for us. (2 Thessalonians 2:14)
Three Tips to Share With Those Still Far Off From This Season
- Nurture your marriage relationship. This is the primary and permanent one. Make time for fun and meaningful conversations away from the kids. (Genesis 2:24)
- Enjoy your children today. I know you are distracted and exhausted. I know the Tupperware is all over the floor and the toddler is playing in the dog’s water, but one day you will trade millions of quiet moments for just one more day like you have today. (Psalm 90:12)
- Always be a mother before you are a teacher. One day it won’t matter that you didn’t finish the spelling book. Those kids will have their whole lives to memorize the state capitals, but you can’t go back and curl up with them on your lap and read Tom Kitten again. There will be no more opportunities to blow on their skinned knees. Mothering is a God-given priority above almost everything else. (1 Timothy 5:10)