By Bob Myers
I run this article most every year because it describes where a number of us find ourselves. Originally written over ten years ago we’ve had over 19 college drop offs and while it always got easier, it still punched us in the gut every single time. We’ve yet to encounter the truly “empty nest” and my wife has dubbed this season the revolving door.
That said, this article is not for everybody.
If you‘re one of those parents who looked forward to summer ending, who skips through back to school store aisles singing, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year”, skip this column, it’s just not for you. I don’t judge you, but I can’t relate to you right now. I’m a person who grieves at the end of summer. I hate it when school claims my kids. I feel ripped off when school extends into June and commences before Labor Day.
So, if you’re a person who thinks Hallmark is missing out by not promoting a line of “sympathy” cards for parents who drop off their kids for college, read on. This article is for parents who grieve sending their kids to school, and especially for parents who had the wrenching goodbye with the college drop off. For some this included military training and the rigors of boot camp. For others, it was less than couple hours drive. Either way, it is a point of change, and in many ways a point of grief. Each August has become a reminder that our lives are bracketed by change and goodbyes.
It’s been twelve years since we first experienced this, and each year since we have had a different mix of partings and new beginnings. Every single summer has afforded us more time to interact with our children than any other season. Summer used to be an unbroken season where our house was a hive of activity, but even now we enjoy multiple special events and times with our adult children. Dr. Seuss’ sage advice, “Don’t be sad because it’s over, be glad because it happened” applied to us, it was this summer. If ever we should mostly be full of thanksgiving and aware of blessing it’s now.
Add to these blessings the fact that college itself is such a huge privilege. We are thankful for God leading each of our children to just the right place for their gifts, and you’d have reason to assume our sense of blessing should drown out any sense of the blues. In every season of life, there’s far more reason to worship than to whine. But, God knows our frame that we are but dust. And we don’t have to waste a second feeling guilty about feeling some loss as we transition.
So, in just a few days, a radical change will settle in as we prepare for the chill of fall weather. The house feels empty. We miss our kids. We miss our kids’ friends. We even miss late night noises, spontaneous parties, and needing to rush out in the morning to get some milk because someone baked cookies and consumed it all. (O.K., that part I might not miss so much….)
I’m pretty sure the reason no one told me this would be hard is that there’s absolutely no preparation or words in advance that make this major transition easier. My parents and their generation never let on that the college transition was hard, or perhaps we were all oblivious to it. Our generation invented the concept of “helicopter parents” who have to be bounced out of the dorms.
Here are the things that I’ve found helpful in dealing with the college drop off blues.
It’s not goodbye, it’s see you soon.
Whether it’s fall break, Thanksgiving, or Christmas break, put it on the calendar. Begin planning their transportation home, and some of the things that you will do together. You might even want to start sketching out next summer’s trips and vacation plans, even if it’s just a list of possibilities to discuss. Proverbs 14:22 “those who plan what is good find love and faithfulness”. Jesus puts plans in our hearts that fuel our joy. Commit to God some specific desires and plans that can happen when the family is reunited, and some one on one time that you can cherish with your child. Pray over them. Write them down. Entrust them to Jesus to bring to fruition. “The desire of the righteous will be granted” - Proverbs 10:24. “May He grant you your heart’s desire and fulfill all your plans” - Psalm 20:4!
Turn missing them into prayer for them.
Job 1 reports that Job offered up sacrifices for his children seeking to cover them with God’s grace and mercy. We should do the same thing. Cover them with prayer. Invoke the mercy and guidance of God over them. Be a faithful intercessor who calls down hedges of protection, pleads for impartations of the Holy Spirit, and invite and invoke the intervention of God in their daily lives.
Rehearse the faithfulness of God and the goodness of God.
What I mean by that is spend time tracing forward from their birth and perhaps even prior to that the hand of God and the blessing of God. Proper God-filled reflection is the opposite of wistful whining for the past. Melancholy is part of our experience of limitations. We live through seasons that are uniquely good and fail to recognize it. It can fill us with regret, or it can it can fill us with an awareness of God’s bountiful goodness. I took a long run and prayed a prayer of thankfulness beginning with the year of my children’s birth and continuing right up to now remembering events of each year as I reflected and jogged. This stirred up a greater awareness of God’s goodness and faithfulness, and fueled my prayers going forward.
Seize the unique opportunities this season affords.
There are unique opportunities to communicate by letter, text, email, and care packages. There are new spaces in our lives to fill with the God-directed pursuit of friendships, reviving old ones, providing for new ones, doing new things. God has as much purpose for this season of life as any. Each stage of life has opportunities for our development and usefulness that are unique and even delightful. More long walks with your spouse. Date nights. Be positive. Surrender this season to the Lord and He will fill it up with good things.
Remember that the parenting never ends.
Our children need us in their twenties, and their thirties, and beyond. While external control is replaced with extensive freedom for them to make decisions and live with them, we’re still the parents, and we still have a God-given role to play as long as God lends us breath and life.
God designed homes to be focused on our marriage, our spouses, not our children.
The Bible calls our relationship with our spouse, “one flesh”, and He commands our children to eventually leave, and if they get married to “leave and cleave”. It’s not healthy to pursue “oneness” with our children. But it is right to pursue “oneness” with our spouse. Just like “pre-children” is a great season of marriage, the empty or emptying nest has some great opportunities to seize and enjoy. Plan, pursue, date, AND take advantage of the availability of spontaneity.
Pray for Grandchildren.
Lots of them…
Personal Note: I’m fresh back from a stormy deluge of an annual time of solitude and prayer in a pup tent on the Ocean of Hatteras in North Carolina. I’m eager to preach the Evangelism in our “All In” series, and then excited to share at our Leader’s Rally this Sunday night at 6:30pm.
If you serve and volunteer, be sure to come and invite others. If you haven’t found your place yet, but are committed to Covenant, come and find out more. If you come, you’ll have an opportunity to explore the new building!