It is that time of year already. Families begin the hustle of preparing for school in the Fall. For many families, this involves numerous and vastly different scenarios.
Let’s face it. This is also the time of year when so very many parents are faced with the final preparations for themselves, regarding what is coming. It is all the “firsts” that cause many a parent's heart to ache a little with a slight sadness, even as they joyfully celebrate the evolving lives of their children.
Yes, at this time of year, children are starting pre-school, they are starting kindergarten. They are starting a school schedule that is a full day. They are taking the bus for the first time. They are starting middle school or junior high. They are starting high school. And they are starting college.
Backpacks and lunch boxes. Who is in their class? Who is their teacher? What time do they go? When do they move into their dorm? These are some of the things happening in the next few weeks for many parents and their children of various ages.
Not all parents will experience a sagging heart and that is OK. In fact, that is wonderful. There is no shame in that, nor is there any for parents that do experience some heart twangs.
Ultimately, I believe the biggest and hardest two thresholds for parents are kindergarten and college. Obviously, these present the greatest of changes for parents and their children. For many parents, the self care they need stays in the background of consciousness, with the focus on the positive, the excitement and the new beginnings for their children. And rightly so. Then, during fleeting moments of alone time, many parents face the changing presences of their children. They will miss them and they feel it. As the pomp and circumstance clamors for the kids, there are many parents that experience some of these moments as bittersweet. I know I did. I don’t really like the word “bittersweet – but for the lack of a better word, I use it here. I mean happy and a little sad. This article is for those parents.
For the parents that feel some sense of sadness about these pinnacle moments in their children’s lives, the sadness stems from the sense of loss as parents begin the process of letting go. The process involves accepting that, for our kids, home is not their entire universe anymore. Their lives don’t revolve around us like they use to. The world awaits our kids with open arms as they step out into more outside influences and not just Mom and Dad anymore. AND, the carefree, innocent, and marvelous years of 0 -5 are over for that child starting kindergarten. AND the growing up years of a child that is going off to college are over. Those are huge changes for parents. In addition, there are parenting shifts that are required of parents. For parents that home school, some of these transitional firsts are completely different experiences for them, with the exception of college.
For me, it was a tad hard to accept the end of those first years and that special time together, as our first born started kindergarten. Not only that, he also had to take the school bus for the first time. We were ever so grateful that a great neighbor was also starting kindergarten and the kids were close friends.
I just had to meet the bus driver that first day. Ours was the first stop and I hated the idea of our son going off with a stranger in that bus, all alone. Even if it was only a block to the next stop. Sounds silly, I know. I also know that many parents can relate. Insisting that I introduce myself to the driver helped me deal with it. He saw me full in the face, as I saw him. He saw the friendly look that also communicated the “I’m watching you” message. It was a different driver each year. Finally, I was forced to face myself the first day of school one year, when my son, by then in grade 3, begged me not to introduce myself to the bus driver again, particularly because the bus route had changed and we were not the first stop any longer. Poor kid. I joke, but such considerations are important for parents.
Recently, I was looking at pictures of all those first days of school for our boys. As I lazed through the pictures, some helpful ideas began to emerge, between the cappuccino and the pondering of my memories. The phrase “God has been preparing you for such a time as this,” kept whispering to me.
So for all those parents preparing to send your child off to kindergarten, with hearts a little heavy, take heart. God has been preparing you for such a time as this. The joys of your children’s new adventures will carry you through. Eventually, you will find yourself so busy partnering with them through field trips and class parties, spelling lists and birthday parties, etc. that you will be just fine. You will continue to enjoy being an important and essential part of your child’s life. All will be as it should. It will be OK. You will be OK.
For those jumping up and down with delight, bless you. Parents should not feel bad if they are jumping up and down with secret joy, or possibly not so secret joy. That is OK too. It is your good relationship with your kids and their readiness that is important.
As for parents facing kids leaving for college for the first time - some may be saying Hallelujah and some may be dealing with some sense of loss. For those struggling, it is normal. Those parents are recognizing the final countdown time for the “launch pad” and they hate to see the growing up years end. This IS the time in life when parents must be ready to help their children with the ultimate blast off. Or should we say - the nudging out of the nest, like birds do.
I have to admit, it was the hardest time of all for both my husband and I, as our oldest left for college. He went to college on the West Coast. It was a long way from home. I will share that it did not matter that we had 18 years to prepare for it. It was darn hard. We tried not to let him know, as we smiled and cheered him on toward his dreams. It was hard to hide the tears at our final goodbye that freshman welcome week, when it was time for us to go. There we were, him, my husband and I, and our younger son, filled with tears we tried to stuff, as we hugged hard, and said our goodbyes for the time being.
Parents, what we were feeling was not just that he would not be home for a few months. It was facing the harsh reality that life would never be the same again with him growing up at home with us. Maybe he would be home for a summer or two, maybe not. He would be studying abroad for a year, and planned to head right into grad school…All we could do was accept that his childhood was over. From now on, we would get to have him home with us for only snippets of times in between his dream actions. Just like that. Now you see him for 18 years, now you don’t. Talk about a lump in your throat.
I would like to share what happened to us next. After a wonderful Freshman welcome week and getting him settled in, we left our son and headed by limo to LAX airport, to head home to Minneapolis. Once we were out of the presence of our son, I lost it. I was so choked up I just sobbed at the thought of him being gone for good, as I saw it. My husband snuggled me, as tears streamed down his face too. Our youngest son, joined us, as his tears flowed too. Thank goodness we were the only ones in the limo. We blubbered, OK, I blubbered the entire 30 minutes to the airport. I had to get it all out before we got to the terminal. As we pulled up to LAX, my husband, leaning forward to pay the charming Asian driver, told him that he just wanted him to know that everything was OK, that we had just dropped our son off at college and were heading home and we were a little sad, that’s all. Immediately, the driver turned around and shook his finger at me sitting in the back seat, and he scolded me as he said “ Dot why she cwying so much? Dot not a sad ting, dot a hoppy ting!” (That's why she's crying so much?! That’s not a sad thing. That’s a happy thing!).
I’ll tell you, that made us all laugh and we have laughed about that ever since. He was so right, but it was also just so funny. So I share with you parents in all these moments of slight sadness as our kids grow into the next phases of their lives. “Dot not a sod ting! Dot a Hoppy ting!”
In addition, I will share something else. At a parent meeting that freshman welcome week, a faculty person asked the auditorium full of parents to raise their hands if they had a first time college student. Most raised their hands. Then, he said that those parents should not worry, by the time they have the next child headed off to college they will very likely just drive by, open the door, help shove the child out of the car, and keep on going. Though he was funny and the parents laughed, the truth is, it gets easier because parents learn that all is going to be OK. Their hearts will survive. Life will go on and it will be wonderful.
As parents prepare themselves for these milestones in their children’s lives, may they focus on the joy of these times. It will help them through it. Here are some other great ways to help parents adjust:
1. Whether kindergarten or college, show confidence to your child, at all times. It is a scary time for many kids too. Your confidence will result in helping you focus on the positive, which is very effective in steering you away from sad thoughts. Kind of like the Olympic athletes who use visualization to imagine their perfect score. What you focus on grows, according to appreciative inquiry.
2. Look forward, not back. Better yet, live for today. Enjoy the new possibilities.
3. Never let them see you sweat. There is no need to share your worries with your kids. Just let them know how much you believe in THEM and take care of the worries yourself, away from the kids. See, you still have much to do.
4. Use caution when and how you share that you will miss them, especially with the younger kids. Too much emphasis may create a rising stress in children for how much they will miss you too. Once again, by placing your focus more on the positives and not on how much you will miss them, you will be helping yourselves a great deal too.
5. For K -12, get involved with MOPS, Moms In Touch, and volunteering in your schools.(volunteering at your children’s colleges is defintiely not a good idea…tee hee.) These are excellent ways to get support and provide support to your children and their schools. Volunteering in the schools is also very helpful to parents by providing opportunities to get to know staff, the school culture, other kids and parents, the pulse of the environment your child is in, and an understanding of the big and little pictures of your schools.
6. Have special debrief times for each child to share with you this new journey, day by day, week by week. You will always be an important part of their life. Explore and enjoy the new ways to be a part of it. (By the way, no day by days with your college kids. )
7. As you focus on the parental shifts you need to make at these times, you will find that the newness will feel more comfortable quickly. Your sadness will soon be replaced with harmony once again, as you settle into the new ways of life with your child.
8. Try to plan to have something special happening for yourself that first week and month of school. What is doable? A massage? Perhaps a special field trip for yourself and other Moms, to a neat new restaurant or museum. Pamper yourself a little. Treat yourself extra special too.
There are two excellent books I would like to recommend. There are great messages for parents as they deal with the separation of these monumental thresholds. Though both books are written for the final launch in life in mind (teens and post high school), there are many great messages for parents that can be applied throughout the tween years and beyond. The books are:
1. Cleared for Takeoff by Wayne Rice, a favorite author of mine.
Rice asks “Will your teenager soar like an eagle or be grounded for life like a prairie chicken.?” It has 50 ways parents can help teenagers grow up and into their own lives. I feel there are ideas here for helping parents during the tween years as well. Author Rice says “Say Good-Bye, and Let “Em Fly!”
2. Letting Go by Coburn and Treeger
This is a parent's guide to understanding the college years, and the parenting transitions required of parents .
As parents, our goal is to be able to say “We have lift off!”, right? Think about it. Whether it is kindergarten, or college. What a moment, what an accomplishment for the children and the parents. Parents eagerly watching with awe, and amazement, as their children burst into the world, the universe, to the next great phase in their lives. We cheer, we pray, we watch as they fade out of sight. They are not just in our yard anymore. We do not have total control over their lives. They are leaving the protective bubble parents have been able to provide. We anxiously await their safe return.
There was a movie that came out a few years ago called “Failure to Launch”. Matthew McCaughnehey starred in this humorous story about a young man who still lived at home with his parents when he was almost 30, with Mom still doing his laundry and cooking. The plot was all about the parents realizing they needed to light a fire under their son to help him move along in his life. Though a funny storyline, none of us want to have a failure to launch with our children.
Why is it then, that on the other hand, we hate to see them go sometimes? One of the great paradoxes of life.
In summary, raising children is a process. I have a large, wooden sign in my office that says, “Children are God’s Flowers.” As you partner with the Master Gardener (God), may you take in the evolving fragrances, consider the embryonic textures, and celebrate the endless beauty as your children live on. May you be rid of the weeds of that nitpicking despair that would overshadow your joy in your flowers - things like those heartaches when they leave. May you trade in those feelings of a small sense of loss and replace them with harmony and peace and joy once again, as you look forward to the blessings of the wonder in watching your children go out into the world. Enjoy watching them fly. You will. God has been preparing you for such a time as this.
Lori Jo Kemper is a PCI Certified Parent Coach® and speaker.
Copyrighted, Lori Jo Kemper, All rights reserved, 2008. www.TheParentingPath®