On Launching our Children

Children are characters in the family story we tell — until, one day, they start telling it themselves.

Rachel Cusk

For a month I have wanted to write a piece about launching children. I don’t know much about parenting, despite having parented five who are now adults, but I do know something about the feelings that come with launching children. I also know that many of you are going through this for the first time. I’ve seen the pictures. I read the captions. More importantly, I can also guess the subtext, the unspoken, the words that are in your hearts and your journals because only those places can capture your true feelings.

From the time they put our children into our arms for the first time, we enter into a place and journey best descibed as a foreign land. Never have we been so confronted with our own weakness or strength, never have we been asked to do so much for so little. These small humans are part angel, part dictator, and part parasite. In one momentous event we enter a place of protection, responsibility, and love all combined and we are never quite sure which one is playing out at any given time. Perhaps it’s because they are so entwined. The incomparable Rachel Cusk says it well in her book A Life’s Work:

Having lived so high up in the bickering romantic quarters of love, it is as if I were suddenly cast down to its basement, its foundations. Love is more respectable, more practical, more hardworking than I had ever suspected.

Rachel Cusk in A Life’s Work

As moms we are tuned in to these extensions of our bodies and hearts. We have eyes in the back of our heads, and ears everywhere. We have the sixth sense that comes with parenting – and then they’re gone. We birth them — either through the physical labor of the birth process or the emotional labor of the adoption process. We carry them home in soft and sweet-smelling 0-3 month baby clothes, making sure the car seat is facing the proper way. We teach them to brush their teeth and tie their shoes, eat healthy food and get enough sleep, learn to trust and learn to pray. We bravely wave goodbye at first days of Kindergarten and watch them cross over, alone, to school play grounds–their (and our) version of the river Jordan. We yell at them, hug them, cry with them, laugh with them. We vehemently advocate for them — just as strongly as we urge them to grow to be people who advocate for others.

And then it’s over. One day we could be accused of neglect if we don’t know where they are and the next day we aren’t even allowed to see their medical records.

And as we wave goodbye they rarely look back. It’s part of the armor of growing up, this not looking back. They look forward, as well they should. But we are left waving silently at their backs – and brushing away tears as we recognize this is a rite of passage and nothing will ever be the same.

Suddenly we miss the round marks on the wooden coffee table because we miss the ones who made those marks so very much. The house is too quiet. There are too many cookies in the container, and in our case, too much hot sauce in the refrigerator.

So what of this launching? What can I offer you beyond words?

I offer you these things:

  • Trust your intuition – if you wake up in the night and you can’t get them off your mind, there is a reason. Call or text them. If they don’t answer, call someone who can check on them. Buy a plane ticket and go see them. You won’t regret it.
  • Try not to equate your university student not following in your faith path as lack of respect and love on their part. It’s not. Believe me, I’ve learned the hard way. As they journey forward, the faith of their mothers and fathers must be taken on and worn to become a part of their being, or not worn as they choose.
  • Send care packages. If you live far away and mail is not reliable from where you live, you can find people and places that will do this for you. In the United States, Spoonful of Comfort is one such company.* In the United Kingdom, this company could work for you.
  • Learn to release. This is the hardest piece of advice I’m going to give. Releasing is a daily act of faith and trust. It is a daily giving up of our right to know what’s going on with our kids. We were editors of their stories for a long time – 18 years – but we are no longer the editors. Instead, we become the readers of some good and some hard stories. As we learn to release, we become better readers, better listeners, and better at journeying beside these children of ours.
  • Remember that from the beginning parenting has not been all light. There have been the shadows, otherwise how would we recognize the light? It’s easy as we enter the launching stage to imagine that all that came before was bright and light. But the truth is more complicated. Now we enter a stage where for awhile it may feel quite dark. Sophomore and junior years of university in particular can feel fraught with disillusioned youth, but the light will shine through and be all the more precious for the dark.
  • Don’t look to the right or to the left. If you look to one side you will be proudly preening wondering how you got so lucky with your kids; if you look to the other your shoulders will slump in dejected insecurity. Again I look to Rachel Cusk as source of wisdom and brilliant writing. She says that the public narrative of parenthood denies the light and shadow of reality and “veers crazily toward joy.” Nowhere is this more evident as on social media. Carefully curated feeds insult our hurting hearts and we wonder how the rest of these parents seem to do this thing so well. Remember – you are seeing only a public narrative. Grab a cup of tea on a dark day with any one of those parents and you will cry tears together. Parenting young adults levels our proverbial playing field.
  • Honor their journey. You’ve raised them for this. It’s true that you no longer play the same role – if you did, it would hold its own hard journey – but you are always and forever a part of the story. You’ve just traded places in who gets to tell it.

So there you have it. You’ve entered a new season. Before long, it will be normal, but before it gets that way enjoy the change in colors. Like leaves that fall to the ground too quickly, this too will some day be gone. In the mean time, eat those extra cookies. You wouldn’t want them to go stale.

*No compensation is received for this post!

6 thoughts on “On Launching our Children

  1. I hate this post—How did I get to be old enough, with children that are old enough, that I can actually relate to it?? I was the young mum with adorable children! And then I was the cool mom who made the best chocolate chip cookies. How am I here now? And as an adult TCK I am triggered deeply when my youngest is homesick and FaceTimes me from the folds of her eiderdown, her face red with tears, hours away from where I am, where it seems she should also be! Can I still trust my broken intuition when it’s so connected to my body’s memories of isolation and deep loneliness when I was barely 9? I hate this post!
    But then in the middle of the night I remember your (awful!) invitation to Release —and with tears streaming down my face –I tried that out as a strange prayer, “here you go—she’s yours. I release her to your care.” And the little 9 year old inside me? I release her too.
    Thank you for this terrible piece. I didn’t like it one little bit.

    Like

  2. Marilyn, as our oldest turns 30 and the middle child turns 28, we settled our youngest into her dorm at University. We wept. And we also smile because she is in her element! Then we looked at each other with wide eyes…what now?? We started this journey in marriage 31 years ago, and after 30 years, we are sans offspring for the very first time since 2001. Picture us looking each other in the eyes and smiling shyly. –Walking with the older two, your words ring true, and I might add that it has been wonderful to ask them what friendship with us looks like to them. Both of our older kids want to be KNOWN for who they have become while still linked to who they have been. This is something we can do for and with them. And it is good.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you. I am struggling with sending my youngest off to college. It is gut wrenching and feels like the end of my life. I appreciate your words of encouragement and pray that they will sink into my mind.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you- really struggling- my youngest daughter was studying from home last year after returning during lockdown- we became so close- numerous walks discussing her dates! But also tough health issues bringing tears. Just over a week ago she returned to England to complete her course- I knew it would be hard-& it has been 😌I’m so proud of her & know she needs to finish exactly where she is but yes the house feels so quiet & i so miss our walks/chats. Counting down to Christmas break- reading your words comforting & will definitely reread to remind myself all is well & all manner of things shall be well💙

    Sent from my iPhone

    Liked by 1 person

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