At Work & Theology 101

Lessons Learned from Launching Our Children Off to College

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It occurred to me on the short drive into work one morning that it was 20 years ago that our daughter graduated from high school. This was a milestone event for her and our whole family.

In a blink of an eye, the summer passed by, and my wife had to drive our daughter and two boys from our home on Hill Air Force Base, Utah, to the west side of Chicago, Illinois, to start her freshman year at Wheaton College where she was about to embark on the adventure of a lifetime.

We learned a lot during that process and from doing the same thing with our sons a few years later. Perhaps there are parents on that journey now who might benefit from our experiences. Let me share why young adults need to leave home. Then, let me offer some insights that may help prepare parents for this transition, as well as siblings. Lastly, I will share where God is in this transition.

The Need for High School Graduates To Go

Let me begin this discussion by stating two radical observations. First, there is a developmental need for your high school graduate to leave home, follow their dreams, and begin their own journey. A young adult who spends most of his days playing video games while his mom does his laundry could be doing better things such as going to college or trade school, getting a job, serving on a missions project, or joining the military.

Second, there is a theological need for high school graduates to move out on their own and begin adulting. Jesus spoke about His followers being salt and light (Matt 5:13-16). We all need to be set on a hill and come out of the salt shaker to be effective witnesses of the gospel, both in word and deed. Even though we are called to be separated from the world’s (Satan’s) twisted value system, Jesus prays that God would send us back into the world where lost people are (John 17:14-18).

There is another theological topic to consider. Nudging your young adult out the door to work or pursue their education, whether it is a gentle nudge or a more forceful one, puts them in a position to have to depend on the Lord to guide them and provide for them. After all, they are his children (only if they have accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior), not just yours. Holding them back by providing everything they need at home will only delay their dependence on God.

Preparing the Parents for the Move

You may have heard this statement, regarding parenting: “The days are long, but the years are short.” Moms and dads work diligently from day one to prepare their children to live on their own. However, when that day comes, many are not ready to let go. This is one of their hardest jobs.

I taught on this topic in my adult Sunday School class several years ago. It seems relevant now. Here’s the simple observation I made: The command from the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 6:1 for children to obey their parents is clearly given to children, not to adults. The command in Ephesians 6:2-3 (quoting Exo. 20:12 from the Ten Commandments) to honor ones parents applies to children and adults and is a lifelong one (our lifetime, not our parents’ lifetime). Parents, you must take the initiative to lead your children and help them make this critical transition from obeying you to honoring you.

Your job as parents is far from over, but it will be different. Instead of being your child’s primary decision-maker, you need to let them make their own decisions and then live with the consequences. For many young adults, this is the only way they will gain experience, confidence, and wisdom to do so. Your new role is as an advisor and someone to provide a safe space to land if they need it.

What helped us to relate in a healthy manner with our adult children as they went off to school and lived on their own is to avoid the extremes of isolation and interference, and find that sweet spot between interest and involvement.

Preparing the Sibling(s) for the Move

I can honestly say that I was actively involved in preparing myself and my wife for our daughter’s departure. However, I probably should have done a much better job preparing her brothers for it.

I have to admit that I was blind to how the boys were doing, since I was stationed in Korea for our daughter’s freshman year. When I returned home, life with our firstborn in college became the new normal. I had no clue how 20% of the family being gone affected my sons emotionally until the next one left for school and our youngest was all alone. It took me a while, but I began to see how abandoned he felt when his two siblings who he had known all his life were both away at school.

In hindsight, I would be more proactive to check in with each child to see how they are feeling. I might schedule a family meeting to discuss the upcoming departure and what we were going to do to stay in touch (i.e., family weekends at their school, holidays, video chats, and phone calls).

Where is God in this Transition?

Let me share my experience when we dropped our daughter off for her second year at college.

I missed taking her the first year. This time, it was very hard for Daddy to say goodbye to his little girl. What made it even more painful was that the minute we pulled up to the driveway to her dorm, the Christian song, Blessed Be Your Name, was playing on the radio. It was one of those times I knew that the Lord was speaking directly to me through the speakers in our Ford Windstar.

For those who know this song, you may recall these powerful lines, taken from the book of Job:

He gives and takes away
He gives and takes away
My heart will choose to say
Lord, blessed be your name

It was a clear message to me: God gives us our children, but a mere 18 years later, he takes them away so they can go out and do bigger and better things for his Kingdom. It was an act of faith to let go of each one of these precious gifts he gave to us, and entrust them into his faithful hands. I had to choose to say, “Lord, blessed be your name,” even as tears were streaming down my face.

Knowing that God is always present with his chosen ones should bring comfort to parents, young adults who have left home, and siblings who are left behind. We can grieve honestly, remembering that God is close to the brokenhearted. These transitions are so hard, but good for all concerned.

Everyone’s situation is different. Your child may not be ready to leave when others are. When they are ready, send them out with confidence. Once you adjust to the initial loss, you can look beyond it to graduations, marriages, and grandchildren, which is another adventure in itself. Embrace it!

Editor’s Note: This article was adapted with permission from the author’s website. Find the original article here.

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