As I have reached the chapter of life where my children are leaving home, I have found a community of mothers who are learning how to live in The Transition.
The Transition is the period where your children are moving from dependent children to independent adults. Much to our chagrin, while simultaneously a relief, they don’t blow out their eighteenth birthday candles and magically become responsible adults. Arguments could be made that we culturally are holding our children back in this transition due to a parent-lead extended childhood. When I examine our family dynamic, finances and higher education are the main obstacles to full independence for our oldest children. Whatever the reason, I find there is a new era of life between teenage years and the goal of productive, self-sufficient adulthood.
As I sit in this new chapter, I find myself saying regularly to my children, “Do what you must to not be beholden to your Dad and me.” I can think of no more destructive relationship than one chained in obligation and unwarranted control. The longer we are tied together in The Transition, the more challenging the relationship. While I love them, I know the best possible scenario is when they are not limited by the unnatural restraints of dependence in adulthood.
From my perspective, no matter how hard I try not to, if we are providing for them, I am invested in what they are doing and have an opinion. I am not above saying that this is a personal defect, but it is the truth. This is not good for me and I am sure it is a great bother to my children.
My children, while I believe to be exceptional in most every way, are fairly typical people in that they have their own ideas. It is no surprise to me, as they share my DNA and I was their primary teacher the majority of their education, that they also have strong opinions which I don’t always agree with in premise or practice.
That is both challenging and frightening. There are ideas that cause me to lose sleep and there are ideas that cause me to dig deeper into study. My natural instinct is to put action to the worry and fear, to control the thoughts and actions that concern me. This is a failure in faith, not only in my children, but ultimately in their Creator.
“There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them. “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living.”
I have been thinking a lot about the story of this father. I have been thinking about how he handled The Transition. His son came to him and demanded financial support for a life away from his family. I assume the father knew what choices the son was planning on making. He knew that all he had poured into his son was not going to be evident in this expensive act of independence and rebellion. He gave the son the gifts intended for him and he let him go.
He let him go.
He didn’t impede on his son’s free will. He didn’t yell and scream. He did not try to fix his son’s thought. He didn’t beg and lay down in front of his transportation.
He let him go.
After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ So he got up and went to his father.
The second thing that stands out to me is that in The Transition of the Prodigal, life became full of trials. The prodigal lost all his money. He became hungry. He had to work in a position below his station. He considered the privilege of pigs. The father, by letting his son go, allowed him to fall. Fall hard. And it was in the midst of the consequences of falling that the son began to consider the father. In his hunger, in his humbled state, he came to his senses. How opposite our modern tendencies is it to let our children fail and fail miserably? I am afraid we don’t want to give our children the blessings that only come through that failing because we don’t want to be the parent of a child who is in the mire.
A dear friend shared her experience with her son falling into the pit of addiction. If there was a disturbing choice to be made, he was making that choice. She found herself praying that her son would be defeated in every bad choice he would make. If he was going to drive drunk, she prayed he would be pulled over and arrested. If he was carrying illegal substances, she prayed he would be caught. Not because she wanted ill for him, but because she knew it would take him lying in the slop to remember his father. It would take the despair of hitting the bottom of brokenness to come to his senses. Her desire for her son’s long term wellness required her son’s temporary disgrace. She is among my most esteemed mothering mentors because she let him go.
In all fairness, my children are not living lives of full rebellion. They are not in the business of wild living, as far as I know. They are discovering themselves, the world they live in and their places in it. They are questioning their faith and in doing so, working out their own beliefs, which may look a little bit different than mine. Sometimes that feels scary. In moments of waning faith, it may feel like they are choosing poorly or tip-toeing towards rebellion. Even if they are, I have to remember to let them go in The Transition. They don’t belong to me. They were gifted free-will by their Creator and if I get in the way, I mistakenly see myself as their savior when they already have The Savior.
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.”
I wonder how often the father went out to the roadway and looked out longing for his son to come home. I imagine him standing looking at the horizon of an empty road without the benefit of social media and life apps letting us know the location of our children at all times. I wonder how difficult it was to go to bed each night not knowing if his son was living or dead. Knowing that the next day he would go and look once more. It was a habit of faith to continue to watch for the son. A habit of faith that lead to seeing him in the distance. And in him returning home, he saw Him restoring His own.
Finally in the reception of the son, the father displayed his faith in the most impressive way. He ran to receive him with love. He did not offer I told you so’s. He did not make him to feel shame or contrition. He received him as the answered prayer of a Loving Father who received him first. When you are given the gift of your heart, you give praise, not criticism. You welcome your beloved child with the robe and crown they discarded for cultural acceptance or philosophical trend.
The Transition is the hardest of all the parenting stages I have walked through so far. The only thing that makes it easier is the reminder of who The Father is.
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:
“For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
He is the one with eyes on the horizon for me. He is the one who restores me to Himself without shame or condemnation. How,in my hope to mirror Him, can I offer less to my children?
Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.