I was never good at letting go.
As a child, I saved everything. I stashed treasures in my closet like a favorite pair of too-small cowboy boots, Trixie Belden book series 1-79, a stained Baylor Bears tee shirt I couldn’t bear to throw away, love notes from old boyfriends, cards from past birthday parties, and shoe boxes full of personalized cassette tapes I made as an inspiring 80’s pop singer.
I remember my mom constantly begging me to clean out my closet and get rid of the junk. Somehow, I strategically rearranged my things to make it look organized. I like being a neat pack rat. I don’t necessarily like clutter, and I’m definitely not a hoarder, but I love keeping treasures that remind me of the special memories we have made as a family the past 22 years.
When we moved into our new home in December, I realized I needed to do a little letting go as I tackled countless boxes labeled with bold red marker “memories.” Raising three children ages 20, 17, and 6, I have made it a full time hobby keeping their treasures: hand made clay pottery, baby clothes, photos, paintings, toys, preschool crafts, costumes, sports equipment, and dozens of birthday cards and love notes to mommy.
I’m one of those mushy moms that cherish everything. The thought of letting go of their stuff makes me uncomfortable. It’s like if I can hold on to the little things … maybe I can slow down the growing up part and not have to let go.
But, every parent knows that dreaded word we all have to eventually say. I wrote about it here.
Is it possible to love our children AND let them go?
One of the biggest adjustments in my life as a parent has been finding the courage to let go and prepare my three super-kids for their big life adventures. Thankfully God gives us adequate time to grow into this new season of parenting. It’s not an overnight heart-explosion, but a slow process that takes years (and a lot of mistakes along the way) to learn how to let go. I don’t mean letting go of loving, caring, praying, supporting or nurturing, but really letting go and letting them launch into independence and growing up and leaving the nest.
5 Things You Will Need to Let Go:
- Release your arrows like a warrior: I love the television show, Arrow. After a violent shipwreck, billionaire playboy Oliver Queen was missing and presumed dead for five years before being discovered alive on a remote island in the Pacific. And like a lot of young adults who are spoiled, selfish, and immature, they can end up lost on the battlefield because of really bad choices. In the show, Oliver is forced to survive on the dangerous island and learns how to shoot an arrow like a warrior.There is a point in our own children’s lives where the arrow symbolizes letting go. Parents agree, the training season is long and challenging, but when they are pointed at God’s target and shooting straight for their purpose in life, we can celebrate the bullseye. “At some point, all parents need to release their children and trust in God’s plan for their lives, no matter where that plan takes them.” (Family Life article here.)
- Don’t spoil the bumpy ride: I love road trips. What parent doesn’t enjoy squishing your children in the back of a van and driving hundreds of miles to a fun destination? Along the way, there are bumps in the road. Some are the size of speed bumps in a parking lot, and others are deep potholes that can cause your car a lot of damage. As we maneuver around the bumps, I hope you can remember the joy of the ride. It’s thrilling to stop by the side of the road and take a family photo, or fish along the way, or set up a camp site and enjoy one another as you roast marshmallows. There will always be bumpy roads ahead, but learning the skills together can help create a happy, healthy relationship to survive the journey.
- Loosen your grip even when it hurts: I enjoy holding hands. The times when my children loved holding my hand are a special memory. Holding a parent’s hand feels safe, like you are invincible. They can roam around life and never worry about getting lost, or bumping into an object, they never move too fast or too slow because they are holding our hands and going at our pace. Letting go of our child’s hand hurts because they can find themselves in all kinds of mischief and we loose control. “They need to make the choices. Not us. And for them to do so, we need to learn to slowly loosen our grip.” (Family Life article here.)
- Throw away the pacifier: I will never forget the day when my son, Michael took his pacifier out of his mouth and handed it to me saying, “Bye, Bye Paci!” How in the world does a 2 year old know it’s time to hand over the pacifier. I loved listening to my son sleeping in his crib hearing the sweet sounds of the paci. It made him my baby boy and I wasn’t ready to throw it away. As we celebrate the big milestones our children accomplish, they are stepping stones to growing up. There’s no way I would have allowed my son to go to Kindergarten with a pacifier, but the hand-off that day was painful for my mommy heart. Allowing our children to find their own way and letting go of childish things are a passageway to adulthood.
- Get ready for your own customized God-adventure: Your child has set off on his/her big launch. You feel left behind. You’ve been a mom for 18 plus years and now they are off on their big launch. You might feel depressed or anxious and uncertain about your new role as a parent. I assure you these feelings are all normal … I feel them, too. But, now more than ever is the time to pray big and dream big and ask God to prepare a customized God-adventure for you! What have you longed to do? What tugs at your heart? This new season will be an opportunity for you to launch. As a mom of littles, there is an important season. (love this post about littles here) As a mom of teens, young adults, and new launchers, our season has changed and matured and allows us more freedom. I’m making the choice to enjoy each new season with a little, a teen, and a launcher!
One of my best friends allowed me to walk with her as she prepared for their oldest son’s big launch in February to live homeless, travel the country backpacking, and share the gospel to the lost. At 20 years old, Heno is making a huge launch into adulthood and communicated to me how much his parent’s support and love means to him.
It was hard.
It was painful.
It was scary.
Sue had to overcome big fear and anxiety, but at the same time honor her son and his big dreams. Here’s what she told me:
- I have choices to make: I can love him regardless.
- I can shut him out to protect my own heart.
- I can become so angry I can lose him by turning him away.
- I’m choosing to pray and ask God to teach me how to grow and learn. God has called us to love.
On the eve of his adventure, Sue wrote a letter to her son. We spent the evening with their family sharing a meal and praying and celebrating Heno’s big launch. She read the letter and we all wept. It was a beautiful example of a mother’s love and letting go with grace, beauty, and faith. As you read her letter, I hope this will encourage you as a mom at any stage of your journey to keep loving and keep letting go.
Kari, as promised, here is the letter I gave to Heno when he “launched” yesterday. I hope it can be an encouragement to other moms (and dads) of “out of the box” kids. His strong will, which nearly drove me to drink, as a child and teenager, has led him to become a passionate follower of Jesus, who wants to live out the Gospel. He is still adventuresome and a risk taker, just as the Lord wired him, and I have grown to accept it and love him even deeper for it.
As you begin this adventure, I wanted you to know a few things:
Love wins. Daddy and I love you with every fiber of our beings. In raising you we gave it our all – right or wrong – we did the very best we knew how.
Prayer works. You, our adventuresome son, have been excellent for my prayer life. Over the course of your life, I have taken your name to the throne of the King with praise and thanksgiving, with requests for wisdom, and cries for protection. I have watched the Lord guide and protect you. He is ever present – keep Him close and pray often.
Fear is a gift. The Lord gives us discernment when we ask him for wisdom. Even in Scripture, some followers of Jesus were instructed not to go to certain places. Listen to His small still voice when things don’t feel right. He will direct your path.
Love never ends. When you first told us of your plans to go to California and minister to the homeless, I will confess I was consumed with anxiety and fear. It was gripping me, choking me, and I wasn’t sure how I would cope. However, my spiritual mentor and I met while you and Dad were in Colorado. After sharing all my fears and anxieties, she said, “Does Heno believe that He is in God’s will?” I said, “Yes, he told me he feels called by God to do this.” She looked me straight in the eye and said, “Then he couldn’t be in a safer place.” I decided that my New Year’s resolution would be to let you go. Not with any anger or regrets, but let you go, believing that Gods got this. He’s got you…always has…and I choose to trust him…always.
So as you greatest fan, your biggest cheerleader, I let you go. My love for you has never been greater, prayers for you have never been stronger, and my belief in God’s plan for you never more certain. You were His first, and He chose Daddy and me to be your parents, just as He chose Lanie for our family.
John 15:16 “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain.”
Time to go now, time to fly (please don’t take that literally!)
Wherever this journey takes you, know that I love you and am proud of you.
I’m raising my three children to eventually let them go. God has the most spectacular plans set in motion for them the moment they were conceived. It’s easy to set expectations as a mom and especially for our children, because we love them so darn much! But, when we have the courage to prepare them for the big launch, the time we spend with our children has incredible purpose and meaning.
The most important thing we can do for our children is circle them in prayer. Every season will bring different prayers, different circles, changing dreams and new passions. What an honor to love our children big and let them go even bigger.
Where are you in your parenting season of letting go? What have been some of the joys and challenges of preparing for the big launch?
(Heno Head in Arches National Park, UT)