I am astonished at how quickly time passes. My eldest daughter is counting down until she can get her learner's permit (just 2 1/2 years to go) and my youngest will be walking any day now, and no longer be considered a baby, but a toddler.
With my children's growth and maturing, I've discovered a few things about the way I parent. I've seen parents who seem to push their little ones out of the nest, into life's adventures, and those who coddle and baby their children and refuse to let them grow up, take chances, and make mistakes.
I'm recognizing something within myself that seeks to hold onto every moment; but as an extension of that emotion, fears my children's independence. Holding on is not a bad thing in and of itself, but any mother can take that to the extreme and keep her child from advancing and maturing.
Last year, I took a deep breath and let my kids (then 6, 8 and 10) walk home from the YMCA, which is 3 1/2 blocks from our house, after their afternoon classes. This was a huge stretch for me, even though I recognized that many parents allow their elementary aged children walk to school daily, with no real concern or anxious thoughts. I was very, very clear in my instructions. First, they were to call me as soon as they were assembled and ready to walk home. Next, they must ALWAYS stick together and come straight home with no dawdling. Sure enough, nothing extreme happened on those first independent treks, and after a year of this, I am far more comfortable and relaxed about their ability to walk back and forth between home and the Y.
Now, I am beginning to encounter the world of autonomous play at the houses of friends from church, homeschooling groups, etc. There is the dreaded request for sleepovers... and I must admit, I face that idea with much trepidation. As I was contemplating one child's request for a weekend slumber party at a friend's house, I realized just how much fear was inside of my heart concerning this matter. I found it important to assess my feelings, and determine whether they were valid or not.
First, there is the concern that the parents or family members of this friend are totally messed up, and something bad will happen. While the likeliness of this is minimal, especially if I take the time to meet the parent/parents and keep in close contact with my child, asking how things are at their friend's house, it still remains a fear of mine. In this situation, I must do my best to hand these fears over to the Lord, do my "due diligence" in getting to know the parents of my children's friends, and also keep an open ear and heart towards my child; talking to them about their experiences and interactions while away from home.
Next, and this thought surprised me, but I realized that I fear my kids will get into trouble if they are away from my watchful eye. I can clearly recall some of my sleepovers as a young teen, which involved sneaking out, smoking, and making up nauseating drinks by mixing various alcohols we could siphon out of my friend's parent's liquor cabinets. (My parents were outspoken teetotalers so my home was not the best choice for this sort of foolhardy activity.) All of these memories of my foolish adolescent behavior leave me wondering: What if my kids decide to follow my disastrous footsteps and get into things that they shouldn't be doing?
I think this all brings me back to the idea of "letting go". If I spend the next decade of child-rearing living in fear of what could happen, and what mistakes my children could make in the "big bad world", then I will inevitably miss out on the good things that could happen as well. My perspective will be set on the negative and be blinded to all the positive steps that my children make as they learn and grow. The real question is, have I done my best? Do my children feel dutifully (and resentfully) bound to adhere to my strict standards and rules? Or have I captured my children's hearts with a desire to do the right thing, empowered by a sense of honor, respect, and above all, a commitment to holding fast to Jesus' commandment:
"...'you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.' This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these." (Mark 12:30,31)
If I have indeed raised my children in the aforementioned manner, with sensitive hearts to the feelings of others and a desire to please the Lord, then I should be able to release them into life with an attitude of boldness that is tempered by peace. It does no good to major on the minor thing, and to magnify the small negative issues when there are so many positives to rejoice over. I constantly hear good reports of my children's behavior towards others, specifically towards adults. They are kind, considerate and exemplary in their love for the Lord and other people. And yet, I must constantly remind myself of these truths... and stop worrying so much!
My babies are made to grow up and become something amazing all on their own. For a time, I get to hold them close, then take them by the hand as they take each tentative step. For a while, I must hold them back and restrain them before they run out into danger, unknowingly. But there definitely comes a time to push them out of the nest and say "I believe in you!" I must trust that I have given them the tools they need and that the Heavenly Father has created within them the ability to explore, learn and tackle life's challenges without undue hesitation and timidity. There comes a time when I have to let go of the child who is straining against my grasp and say "I trust you." and "I'll be right here waiting for you!" Also, for the child who is apprehensive, I have to be willing to give them a little push here and there, despite my own concerns.
Letting go doesn't mean you quit your job as mom and the various roles it entails: comforter, protector, advocate and counselor. However, I think when a parent can not let go and trust, a child is more likely to race off and have no desire to look back. In light of that, I think it is important to show you care. We can't be so afraid of offending our kids or that we'll be spoiling their fun opportunities (as innocent as they may seem), that we won't say "no" when something irks us. We can't lose touch, and ultimately lose connection with our children's hearts and lives for the sake of giving them their freedom.
I know that I have a lot to learn about raising children into adulthood, and I can only draw upon my limited experience and the memories of my own bumpy road from adolescence to the adult I am today. However, I've continually been prompted by the Holy Spirit in little everyday situations to listen to Him and explore the issues that are pent up in my heart. I've learned that in order to raise emotionally and spiritually healthy children, I must pay attention to my own emotional and spiritual health. As surprising as it was to me to realize that the root of my fears about sleepovers came from my own teenage rebellion, I can respond by taking these concerns to the Lord, and ask God to move in my heart and change my unhealthy motivations towards my kids.
It's a beautiful, miraculous event when you can stand back and see your child succeed. I'm determined that my own fears, past failures and lack of faith will not be a hindrance to each of my little birdies as they take flight. I'll just be sure to remind them that mama's nest is always open...