From the moment our infant leaves the womb, we place them in the hands of others. From the maternity nurse, to the day care provider, to the kindergarten teacher, to the soccer coach, to the driver’s education instructor, to the youth minister, we are always in the process of letting go of our precious child. Now that they are attending college, we may be letting them go out of our sight for even larger amounts of time; whether they are living at home or living far away from us, it is a new chapter in their lives and another “opportunity,” to practice the difficult skill of LETTING GO.
Lest you think I have little experience with the heartbreak of this process, I am the mother of four grown, adult children, my youngest being a junior in college. I consider myself highly attached to my kids, as I cried at every first day of school and reconsidered the possibility of homeschooling. It is my deep instinct to draw them to me. I simply loved the nurturing role of being there to bandage up wounds, to cuddle and read, to fix their favorite treats, to tuck them in at night, to pray with them—to be significant in their lives! Being a parent is one of the greatest gifts I can imagine and yet, here’s my little secret—it feels like this parenting thing is a big trick on the part of God. We alter our lives immeasurably to respond to the slightest need of our infants—we rapidly adjust to sleepless nights, messy homes, never leaving the house empty handed, and then like the proverbial frog slowly boiled in the pot of water, we get fired from our job! We get attached to our cherished identity and then we have to be “rebirthed” ourselves as we let go of it!
I was pondering this letting go process today while in Mass when the Holy Spirit nudged me and reminded me that God offers us the perfect parenting model. God created us and then, instead of holding us too close and smothering us, God gave us the gift of free will. We are free to love God and follow God, or not. We are not puppets. God is not a helicopter parent. How does God do this? Be always present, yet leave us to our own choices? We know that this gift of free will is vital because then the choices we make are authentic and not made out of duress. This is true love—to be formed in freedom, not out of constraint.
So, the question is, how do we offer this unconditional love and support for our college aged offspring, yet not lose the connection, or let them drown in the consequences of bad choices? I would suggest the first step is to pray for them; cover them in prayer. Imagine them surrounded by the light of God and God’s protection. Then pray for our own ability to let go to the degree that is necessary for our child to survive and thrive outside of our domain. Our kids need to learn to depend upon themselves, other people and God (and not in that order). If we are there to constantly catch them, they will not learn to develop their own strength. Without the opportunity to develop their own wings, they stay stuck in our nest which they have outgrown. Finally, it is important during this transitional process to listen to their needs, to set up some healthy boundaries (how often should we text or talk?), encourage them to figure out solutions to their problems, remind them of college resources, and let them know that we are praying for them always.
As we all navigate these rough transitional waters, my prayer for you comes from St Paul: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, let your requests be known to God. And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Phil. 4:6-7. This is the promise our Father made to us and on this alone can we rely!
Jeanne Grammens Hidalgo, MPS
Associate Director of Campus Ministry