I made it a whole 20 minutes on the road heading out of Albuquerque, New Mexico before the ugly crying started. I was kind of proud of that. I had fought back a few tears that morning as I gave one final hug and a quick, “I love you.” Then I had driven away from a son walking to his dorm, wrestling his own emotions. And just like that, I had launched a child into college.
How had this happened? Wasn’t he the size of a loaf of bread just last Wednesday?! How had this boy grown so much that now he is an adult, capable of signing legal documents and caring for his own schedule and responsibilities? How on earth does it make sense to let this man-child go be responsible for himself all at once?
The college didn’t play fair, I might add. During the Family Orientation they had a session called “Redefining Relationships” which they began by bringing out a huge basket of tissues and Hershey Kisses. I kid you not! Then a sweet woman who looked apologetic for having to do the emotional part of the day showed us clips from Finding Nemo and Toy Story 3 while she talked us through the 5 stages of letting go and stepping into our new relationships with our kids. They made us cry with Pixar! It was not fair at ALL!
There were so many conflicting emotions last week.
- Fear of the unknown and the terrible what-ifs.
- Confusion about when to let him take the lead when that’s been my job for so long. And confusion about how this new relationship works sometimes.
- Anxiety over how he’d handle life on his own without me anywhere near close enough to be a safety net. I can’t just drive down there on a whim when I’m 14 hours away.
- Pride that he got accepted to an elite film program. (He met another guy in orientation that had not gotten in. Yikes. Awkward.) And pride in the man he’s grown to be.
- Excitement for the new adventure that awaits him in his first year of college.
- Sorrow that he will no longer be in my home each night telling me about his day and his life and that this will not be the reality ever again for more than a summer.
- Peace and trust that God will watch over him better than I ever could.
And you know what? All of these feelings at once are okay. They don’t mean I’m crazy or lack faith. They don’t mean that this isn’t good for him or me. They just are.
The lady who led the tissue-fest talking about our feelings used a phrase that used to make me roll my eyes. She said it was okay to “own our feelings.” But yes, that summed it up. These are the feelings I’m having and its okay to feel them. Our feelings are God-created. Having them, experiencing them is okay. Letting them run our decisions or make us do rash things, not so much. But taking a moment to feel and be sad, happy, excited, anxious, and any other crazy feeling all at once is okay.
If you dropped a kid a college, can I reassure you that all these emotions are not indicators you have lost your ever-lovin’ mind? I’ve talked with a few parents who have done this and the tears and crazy feelings all happened to them too. Letting go of our kids is a process and there’s some sorrow and anxiety buried inside.
Choosing to acknowledge the feelings and then to talk to a friend about them can be healthy. Choosing to ask God to walk with us through this unknown stage of parenting is a lifeline I intend to cling to. As a single mom, I am missing having my late-husband here to walk this with me. That brought up its own feelings of grief and loss all over again. But God promises us we are never alone when we choose to ask for his help.
I can tell you that his first Skype call came before I had even hoped. And it made my heart sing with joy to see him and hear he was doing well. Each time his text ringtone chimes on my phone with a quick question, my heart skips a beat, both happy and wondering why. I think these emotional swings are going to be a thing for a while now.
So grab some tissues and some chocolates and take a minute if you are feeling more emotionally out of control than you have since this child was born. It’s okay. And then breathe and focus on the new adventure that you are stepping into. God’s got this. God’s got you. And God’s got this child you raised so well. Trusting in that anchor can help you weather these choppy emotional waters.