I believe how we navigate empty nest plays a huge role in how free our adult children will be to flourish in life.
This week Vicki Caruana, author of The Joy of Letting Go, shared wisdom and grace for parents like myself who navigate the challenges of transitioning to empty nest. I took extra time with what began as a short interview because this issue dovetails with my own passion to see people free to flourish, and these formative years can set our children on a path of freedom where they can grow and expand—or hold them back.
Find the joy in letting go isn’t always an easy process for me, yet I know how I navigate this long season of rotating doors and releasing my children into adulthood has powerful impact on them, on myself, and on how our family will function in the future. I’ve also learned that how I walk this out deeply affects how joyful or painful my son or daughter’s journey into adulthood is. I realize it hurts my teens and young adults when they have to fight for the very freedoms they should be offered as they mature. At the same time if I give freedom without responsibility, I set them up for failure. For me, one of faith’s greatest journeys is to step back and release my children in God’s capable hands when the temptation is to hover a little too closely.
In my opinion there are few things more difficult to navigate than knowing when and how to give our children the wings they need to fly free to flourish in life. I appreciate Vicki taking the time to help my readers and myself more deeply process these important issues. (Past blog interviews interviews include the process of letting go, how our approach to letting go helps with the transitions to college, and a parent’s role around a child’s identity and decision-making.)
I mentioned in the first blog of this interview series that a hardback copy of The Joy of Letting Go arrived in my mailbox the week of our oldest son’s wedding. Though I was privileged to read an advanced copy of the book and to offer my endorsement some weeks ago, re-reading selections at just that special time was a balm. (Thank you, Vicki!)
It’s interesting that during this time my son Seth was searching for the perfect song for our mother-son dance at his and Amanda’s wedding.
He couldn’t find a song he liked, and his bride-to-be came to the rescue. She sent him several ideas, but her favorite was Mark Harris’s, “Find Your Wings.” Seth told me later he immediately knew it was the song he wanted, but that he didn’t want to influence me, so he sent me several links and asked my opinion.
When I listened to this song, I was alone in the car and free to sob–which I did! It said every single thing I wanted to say to my son as I freely offered him to the beautiful young women who now holds first place in his heart.
I’ve included the song with this last post about releasing our children into adulthood. I hope you are blessed as deeply as I was.
To close our time with Vicki, I asked her to share a selection from her book that would most say what she wanted to say to us today. Thank you, Vicki!
Do I Stay or Do I Go?
Don’t cry because you are leaving; smile because you were there.
The image is still so strong. Every weekday for months, my five-year-old baby boy stood at the window of his preschool with both hands on the glass crying for me to stay. I couldn’t. I had to go to work—as a teacher I had about thirty more children waiting for me to show up. I endured the daily exercise of letting go that school year in the most excruciating way. In my mind I see the palm print of his small hand on the glass moments after his teacher enticed him away from the window. It imprinted on my heart in ways that followed us both through the next twenty years.
Fast forward five years later when our children were transitioning back into the public schools after being homeschooled for four years. I walked this same boy to his fifth grade classroom stopping just short of the door. After only a moment’s hesitation, he slipped into the brightly decorated room with the stealth of a ninja. He didn’t look back, but I lingered.
I sat in the parking lot for an hour trying to decide if I should stay—just in case—or go and let him be. Parent drop-off had ended and I was alone in the lot. I could see his classroom window from where I sat. I realized what I was waiting for—his hand print on the glass.
Thirteen years later we stood—my head only reaching his shoulders—with a jam-packed moving van and the dog nestled safely in the car that would follow. I couldn’t believe it was time to go—again. A mist-like rain covered us like dew and I felt hurried in this goodbye. How many times had I said goodbye? More times than I’ve recounted here to be sure. Why is it that each time feels like the last time?
After a tear-filled hug of this now fully grown and fully able young man, I saw through the car window clearly for the first time. In a last ditch effort, I wondered once more, should I stay or should I go? But he was fine. And it was time. We pulled out of the parking lot, and I watched him through the car window, with my hand pressed against the glass, as we now moved one mile at a time 2000 miles away.
One goodbye at a time.
Letting go is a cumulative process. We have had so much practice up to the point of departure. Instead of remembering all the times you were parted, remember all the times that you were there.
Friends, I (Paula) wish many blessing to each sweet momma (or dad!) whose own journey into empty nest includes those tears that are joy and grief mingled.
Don’t forget! Vicki Caruana and Lisa Samson, who I interviewed last week, both offered to do a giveaway. So . . . if you comment on my blog between now and Easter, your name will go into a drawing for one of their books!
The Joy of Letting Go is available now from: