Becoming Unnecessary to Our Kids
We had just taken the last load into Kristin’s room. I started the vehicle to move it into the parking lot so the parents of another freshman could park closer to the front of the dorm.
The radio was playing a Kenny Chesney hit, and it couldn’t have come at a more inopportune time. “There goes my life, there goes my future, my everything, might as well kiss it all good-bye, there goes my life ...” The video played in my mind, with a father standing in the window watching his daughter drive away. In my situation, I was the one pulling away, but the emotions were the same. The third one gone. Life would be different now.
As it should be.
An elder friend used to teach parenting classes. Years later, as her children began leaving home, a woman from the class told him, “You told us how to raise our children, but you didn’t tell us how to let them go.” He responded, “Yes I did. I told you to raise your children to leave.”
Raise them to leave. Raise them to be ready to face life. Raise them to be excited about taking those first steps on their own. It can be difficult for parents to see their children excited about leaving home. We want to see some resignation on their part, some sense that it is hard to go. This has been their home for 18 years; isn’t there some thread of sadness in them that this phase of life is passing?
But, it is actually a healthy sign that they are facing their future with positive expectation and enthusiasm. It means they are emotionally mature and are growing in their readiness and ability to be responsible, productive adults. Yes, it may take some years for our emotions to catch up with the changing circumstances, but they will.
Three thoughts helped sustain me during the years of the kids transitioning from our home to worlds of their own. First, this is how God designed it. “A man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). Marriage may not be the first thing they leave home for. More likely, they will first leave home for college or a job, with marriage to follow later. But, until they marry, there is still some sense of dependence on mom and dad, either for helping with college costs or storing twenty years of personal belongings in the basement. Whichever comes first, Genesis is still true: a man or woman will leave their father and mother to start their own life.
Secondly, my kids leaving pushed me back in time to my own departure from home. I was seventeen years old and traveled twenty-four hours away. I never once thought of how difficult that may have been from mom and dad. And, granted, that may be just an assumption, right? I know it was far less tragic on my brothers, as one of them got my room. But, my parents survived the transition, and I knew I would as well.
Finally, this line by Lewis Presnall in his book, The Search for Serenity, was encouraging to me: “The job of a parent is to become unnecessary to his children” (p.72). He didn’t say unloved by his children, or unappreciated. Rather, he said the job of a parent is to become unnecessary to his children. That means, our job is to prepare our kids to be emotionally, physically, and financially independent of us. To be adults. Sure, we still want them to come home for Thanksgiving and Christmas, and any other time they are able. But we want them to stand on the two legs God gave them.
The job of a parent is to become unnecessary to his children. And when that happens, something unexpected and rewarding fills the emptiness in our hearts: we are now free to relate to our children as adults and friends, and our relationship with them takes on a whole new richness.