Three Degrees of Separation: How A Mother Has Learned to Let Go

The race we’ve been running, the parenting pace we’ve been keeping for twenty-five years, is about to drastically change. In fact, the very definition of what it means to be a parent is about to change. There’s a different rhythm, a different beat—one of a mentor, advisor, and friend.

School has begun again. Oh, how I love all the social media posts of kiddos heading off for their first day of–“fill in the blank.” Whether it be kindergarten, elementary, or high school, they are all special “first days.” But nothing compares with the moments those ” littles” actually leave our homes for college, military, or other doorways into adulthood. There’s a special angst reserved for parents of budding adults, causing us to wonder “was I a good parent? did I do things right? did I do enough to prepare them for this??”  I pray special comfort for those of you in this season of life.

To that end, I hope you’ll enjoy this article I wrote in 2008 as the last of our three kiddos took wing and flew out of our nest.  Although time has passed, the feelings of letting go, embracing their dreams as yours, and principles of “passing the baton” of life remain the same.

THREE DEGREES OF SEPARATION: HOW A MOTHER HAS LEARNED TO LET GO.

My husband and I hit the ground running with this “passing the baton” stuff.  We’ve already had a couple of kids anxious to get on down the road.  So, hey, I’ve taken this route before–been there, done that, paid the bills.  

You’d think we’d have this “letting go” stuff down pat.  You’d think it would get easier. But then you’d be wrong.
Long before I ever thought about “passing the baton,” I can recall praying that I wouldn’t “drop the baton.” Translated this meant “help me pass down to my kids what they need most to know.”  Or, in more simple terms, “don’t let me screw up my kids and/or blow it as a mother!”   Early on it was necessary to decide what elements make a “baton” worthy to pass in the first place.

BALANCE, STRENGTH, AND PURPOSE

It seemed to me that balance was important to a baton, making it easy to hold.  From the time my children were born, I resolved I would enjoy each stage and every age, from infancy to adolescence.  Looking back I feel I successfully achieved this goal.  I can honestly say I never wished they would remain a toddler, or a second grader, or a teenager longer than normal.  Especially not a teenager! 

Appreciating and understanding the different personalities of each of my children was also important.  I found each were unique and special and had to be approached and nurtured without a cookie cutter mentality.

Next, strength and flexibility must be found in a baton.  My husband and I tried to teach our children to be independent and adventurous while appreciating time-tested traditions of faith and family.  

For instance, we insisted on maintaining a prayer time before bedtime.  Our children learned that 10:00 pm meant “it’s time to pray,” which included any and all visitors in the house.  (This tradition has continued into their adulthood, but now Dad is the one who goes straight to bed after prayer!)

Finally, purpose is vital to a baton.  “Destiny” was a familiar word my children grew up hearing during conversation and prayer.  I always wanted them to know they had a future and a hope set aside just for them.   

Now that would make a great inscription on a baton!  After all, what’s a race about?  It’s all about where are we are headed.  Throw in a healthy dose of compassion for others, and you have a perfect blueprint for a baton race.

DRIVEN BY A DREAM

Prepared or not, we handed off the first baton to our intelligent and determined son.  Between the ages of three and eight, he had a love affair with camouflage.  So it was no shock when he pursued his life long dream and joined the Air Force. Delayed entry promised several years of active duty shortly out of high school and we were so proud of his choice.  However, the recruiting brochures could not predict the 9/11 terrorist attack, which occurred exactly one week before his departure date in 2001.

Maybe it was all the little red, white, and blue pin-on ribbons I busied myself making and distributing (remember those?).  But, starting with his goodbye party, I rode a wave of patriotic adrenalin that masked my pain of separation.  That wave continued well into the following week.  In fact, I began to think this stuff was going to be a piece of cake.  

But that cake crumbled when I missed his first phone call, requiring him to leave a voice mail.  With every repeat of that message, I cried harder and my heart sank lower.  My little boy was actually gone!  He had flown out of Momma’s arms and into the wild blue yonder of adulthood—with Uncle Sam waiting to send him to the uttermost parts of the earth. 

Was I scared?  You bet your B-1 bomber I was!  But the idea of my son soaring in pursuit of his dream made me far more proud than fearful.

ARE THEIR DREAMS YOURS?

Five years later, our second baton was passed to our summer baby and oldest daughter.  Nicknamed “Rosebud” shortly after birth, she was –pardon the pun—ready to blossom.  She was our dreamer, our contemplator.  For several years in elementary school, she seriously wanted to be President of the United States.  Who was I to tell her any different?  With her inquisitive mind and independent spirit, she wanted more than anything to leave home and attend a large university immediately after high school.  So her dream became our dream, and separation followed.

Gleefully she headed off that August for “fish” camp, packing her car to the gills with all the things young ladies carry off to college.  Her sister’s room was upstairs, and I began to notice an eerie silence downstairs.  It was way too quiet.  One evening I went into her room, now so full of emptiness.  She had left a nightlight in the wall socket, just behind the bedside table.  I remember the warm shadow it cast as I sat down in the darkness and cried a mother’s tears of change.  

While I missed her wit and presence, I was proud that our Rosebud—baton in hand– felt so ready to take on the world without us.

WE HAVE LIFT-OFF!

And now our Baby Girl is eighteen…going on thirty.  She’s our social, fun-loving Shooting Star, a born leader.  She’s bubbling over about her exciting summer of travel before the grind of college brings her freedom to a screeching halt.  While the decisions she is making in her universe right now pale in comparison to the ones she’ll need to make in the future, they are nonetheless important to any new female graduate planning for college.  For instance, towers of recently washed and folded clothing, rescued from both her closet floor and busy lifestyle, are stacked on my kitchen chairs awaiting their fate.  Hmmmm—which ones can she absolutely NOT live without?  Which will be tossed?  Which t-shirts will be put in the pile designated for her yet-to-be-made “high school quilt?” (note: this project was accomplished and presented to her as a college graduation present four years later!)

Every time now when I go into my kitchen, the emotional memories remind me “you’ve walked this way before.”  Although thrilled for her opportunities, I am once again experiencing those familiar feelings of separation.  Her bursts of excitement—and those darn stacks of clothes—scream “you can’t hold back this Shooting Star any more!  Get ready, because she’s about to have her lift-off, too!”

I realize that my final lap baby,  just as her brother and sister before her, is focused straight ahead…not looking back retrospectively, but looking straight into the future—just like any good relay runner would.  It is up to us as her parents, about to finish this stage of our race, to squarely place the baton in her waiting hand.  Perhaps I’ll holler a word or two of final instruction, but I can’t expect her to look back.  The other two certainly didn’t.

TO THE BEAT OF A DIFFERENT DRUMMER

The race we’ve been running, the parenting pace we’ve been keeping for twenty-five years, is about to drastically change.  In fact, the very definition of what it means to be a parent is about to change.  There’s a different rhythm, a different beat—one of a mentor, advisor, and friend.  I’ve discovered I’m comfortable with this new stride as we make our way over to the sidelines.  We’ll be ready with advice, counsel, or other help as needed.  But we cannot run their races for them. The baton is passed, and there is a satisfying sensation of completeness because we have lovingly let go.

Gazing at our children as they make their turns down their lanes, it brings me pleasure to recognize traits emerging.  I see fruit of lessons learned as they pound the track.  I also see familiar etchings on their batons, added not by us but by their grandparents, or even great-grandparents.  They may stumble and make mistakes, but endurance is the key.  The goal is not perfection, but purpose.  I must trust that all three of the batons we’ve passed will help them stay the course, run their race, and lead them to their destiny.

My kiddos and me, circa 2011.
My kiddos and me, circa 2011.

Just as my parents before me, I am determined to cheer my children on until my last breath.  Pardon me as I make my way up in the stands.  It’s not easy to just sit and watch after all these years.  But, you see, we have these three runners soaring, blossoming, and shooting across the track, and I need to root them on.  Before I take my seat, though, how much is that popcorn?