Saying Goodbye to Your Adult Child

There once was a single mom whose son joined the military. She missed him terribly, and greatly enjoyed his brief, rare visits home whenever he could get a weekend pass. He was stationed in Florida, so driving home to Chicago and back took up much of the weekend, giving this mom only a few precious hours with her son.

Then one weekend he came home just long enough to say that he was going out with a girl he’d been writing to. Leaving his bag of dirty laundry in the foyer, he shaved and changed into a new suit, then flew out the door.

Late that night, after dropping his date off at her house, he arrived home to see his dirty laundry scattered across the front yard. Some of it was hanging from the trees. He had just enough time to gather up his clothes and head back to Florida, leaving one very angry mom in his wake.

That’s a true story. I often heard both sides of it, because the mom was my grandmother, the son was my dad, and his date was my mom. Whenever my dad told the story, he always laughed about it. But when my grandma told it, anyone could see that she hadn’t completely gotten over her anger.

It wasn’t just the dirty laundry that he expected her to wash, of course. It was the idea that she was no longer his priority when he came home. The many sacrifices she’d made for him and his siblings no longer seemed to matter. All he cared about was some girl he’d met, at least as far as my grandma was concerned.

Another true story that happened to a friend of mine, who is a mom of many children: one of her middle children was the first to go away to college. He was the family clown whose sunny disposition was a bright spot in her life. But whenever he came home for the weekend, he was so busy with his friends that she hardly got to see him. Needless to say, she was very excited that he would be home for the summer, working a summer job to earn money for the coming school year.

Imagine her disappointment when he called to say that he was able to borrow a lot more than he expected in student loans, so he would be spending the summer touring Europe with friends. She barely saw him at all that summer; by the time he came home from Europe, he had to pack up and leave for the fall semester of college.

I felt sorry for my friend when that happened, just as I felt sorry for my grandma when she talked about throwing my dad’s dirty laundry out of the window in anger. But it wasn’t until I had to let go of my own kids that I truly understood how my friend and my grandma felt. It hurts, a lot, and the kids don’t notice because they’re too busy taking on their future.

That said, what’s the alternative? Do you really want to lock up that adult child and keep them close, preventing them from leaving home, finding work, finding love? A common Internet meme is the 30-year-old living in Mom’s basement playing video games and trolling forums. Is that how you hoped your child would turn out? I doubt it.

No, we have to let our kids go. It’s OK to acknowledge the hurt, and to move on (which can be even more difficult than the original letting go). But it has to be done, so that your child can become the person God intends them to become. It also frees you to embrace the next stage of your own life (which is a whole ‘nother topic.)

Timeless Encouragement for Moms

When I look back on the many years of raising and homeschooling my kids, I’m grateful for those who encouraged me.

I didn’t get much encouragement at first, but I prayed for mentors, and before long God placed some amazing women in my life. (I highly recommend praying for mentors, by the way.) Most of them were women from my church, and a few were older homeschooling moms. Then there was one woman who I never met, but who was truly a blessing in my life, and that was Elisabeth Elliot.

You may have heard of her as the wife of Jim Elliot, one of the martyred missionaries made famous in Through Gates of Splendor
, or as the author of such books as Passion and Purity: Learning to Bring Your Love Life Under Christ’s Control
or The Shaping of a Christian Family: How My Parents Nurtured My Faith
(one of my all-time favorites).

But she also had a daily radio show that I used to listen to. It was such a big help to me during those busy years. Her calm and Biblical assurances were also a great comfort to me.

So naturally I’m excited to announce that the vehicle through which she encouraged me, her daily radio show, is now being replayed for a new generation of women, and you can access it free on the Internet!

Just click HERE and prepare to be encouraged.

(By the way, Elisabeth Elliot is now well up in years and has age-related health issues that have limited her mobility. But she is lovingly cared for by her third husband Lars Gren. You can learn more about her current life here.)

Living with Interruptions

Recently Steve Brown wrote about interruptions.

Boy, do I know about interruptions. Thirty years of raising and homeschooling kids has meant that I’m often interrupted. And while it doesn’t happen nearly as much now that we only have one offspring still living at home, the fact is that the others sometimes call just as I’m in the middle of something I had hoped to finish.

As moms, we learn early on that our kids will often interrupt us at the worst times. And if they don’t interrupt us for a while, we also learn that something’s up and we need to check and see why things are so quiet, right?

But most of the time, the interruptions are relentless. Even if you just helped one of your kids, they’ll turn up with a new request five minutes later. I used to say that I hadn’t had an uninterrupted thought since 1983, and I wasn’t kidding, really. As a result, I don’t have anywhere near the attention span I had in college, where I could spend hours in the library stacks doing historical research. Now I’m lucky to stick with a book for an hour.

How do we handle so many interruptions without blowing up? Steve Brown’s advice is not what you might expect. After giving the example of Jesus being interrupted on his way to the home of a man with a dying daughter by a woman who needed His healing touch, he says:

1)      “…the Bible is full of interruptions from Genesis to Revelation…and all of them are under the guidance of a sovereign God who “works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Ephesians 1:11), writing the story of redemption and a monument to his glory.”

2)      God’s ways are circuitous and whatever you think God is doing, He probably isn’t. That means the trick is to “go with the flow” of what God has ordained. Nothing is an interruption…at least to God who planned it.”

Whoa! So when I got irritated with one of my kids when they interrupted me, I was really getting irritated with God? Yikes…good thing He’s a forgiving God.  🙂

Then there’s the kicker:

3)      “But there is more than just recognizing the God we worship is a God of interruptions. We must also learn to set aside the irritation and be thankful for the interruption. Paul wrote that we are to “give thanks always and for everything” (Ephesians 5:20). It’s a radical and counterintuitive thought.”

Yes, it is! That said, I wish I’d heard his advice years ago, when I was deep in the middle of active motherhood and felt like I couldn’t get a thing crossed off my to-do list because of all the interruptions. Clearly God was organizing my days, not me! I just didn’t see it at the time.

A Homeschool Tempest in a Teapot

So the press has found some dissatisfied homeschooled adults. This must make them so happy. Nothing like a little controversy to boost your website traffic.

It makes sense that there will be some homeschooled adults who are dissatisfied with how they were raised. Just looking at the populace at large, what percentage are unhappy with the way they were raised? Probably a good portion, judging from the number of self-help titles published over the years for readers trying to get past their problematic childhoods. Why should homeschoolers be any different?

In this particular case the focus is on a certain type of homeschooling family, known collectively as Quiverfull, according to the article. (That name stems from a book very popular among Christian homeschoolers in the 1990s.) This has been a trainwreck in the making for some time. I knew several families like those described in the article; given their strict beliefs, particularly as they applied them to their daughters, rebellion was inevitable. After all, once your girls get out into the world and discover that there are options in addition to marriage and motherhood, some of them are going to want more choices.

When my first book (Life Prep for Homeschooled Teenagers) was published, I had trouble getting a booth at a certain homeschool conference to sell it. I couldn’t even get a response from those running the conference. I was later told by someone in the know that the problem with my book is that it encourages girls as well as boys to become independent adults. The families running the conference didn’t want their girls to get any ideas, I guess.

Now, I don’t agree with their mindset and my husband doesn’t either. We homeschooled all our children, daughters and sons, with the intent of helping them be all that they could be. Personally I think we can trust God to lead each child to the right career; those that think all girls should be trained only to be wives and mothers ought to give some thought to how God used Corrie ten Boom and Amy Carmichael.

But just because I disagree with families who raise their daughters to be only wives and mothers doesn’t mean I think they shouldn’t be able to do what they’re doing. There is no agenda-free schooling anywhere. There’s an agenda in public school and private school just as there is in any homeschool. Parents are free to choose how to educate their children, and children are free to embrace or reject their upbringing when they become adults. The article I cited at the start of this post is merely an attempt to foment controversy, so don’t let it bother you too much.

The irony in all this is that many of the young women quoted in the article will someday change their minds. They’ll end up being stricter than their folks. I’ve seen it happen before. Some of the biggest rebels eventually turn into the strictest parents. People are funny, aren’t they?

We Can’t Be Number One With Our Kids Forever

I’ve always enjoyed Dame Maggie Smith’s work, so I found this recent interview with her interesting. In it she talks about her loneliness since she became a widow and how she handles it by working as often as possible.

One thing she said really caught my attention: now that her husband is gone, she realizes she’s no longer number one with anyone. That sounds like a very lonely place to be. Then there’s the unspoken inference: not only does she miss the special relationship she had with her husband, but as a mother of children, she realizes that she’s no longer number one with them.

And that’s how it should be, since adult children need their independence and all that, but it can be hard for us mamas to accept. We spent so much time with our children, and they looked to us for everything, so much so that sometimes we had to hide in the bathroom to get a little peace (and even that didn’t always work). Then our kids grew up and one-by-one left home and found others to spend their time with. Before we knew it, we became just another item on the to-do list (“Call Mom”) or just another Facebook friend.

I just reread that last paragraph and it sounds kind of cynical at the end. Sorry, but that’s how it feels sometimes, and I have kids who keep in touch. But I know others who only hear from their kids every few months, so it’s even harder for them. It’s not that we need to keep busy with our own activities (although that surely helps), it’s that there’s this big hole in our lives where our kids used to be, demanding snacks and needing baths; filling that hole with work and hobbies just doesn’t cut it.

I know there are lots of suggested solutions for this loneliness that comes from widowhood or an empty nest or both; clearly Dame Maggie Smith’s solution is work. But I think her honesty is probably the most helpful part of her example. It’s always comforting to know you’re not alone, I suppose.