Saturday, March 20, 2010

This Christian Life: When Your Child Turns 18...Are you ever ready?

The answer to the above question is very simply, "no."

As Christians, we understand that our role - as parents - is to prepare our children for life; literally, "training up a child in the way he (or she) should go" (Proverbs 22:6). We prepare them mentally-emotionally, physically and spiritually for the life ahead. For the Christian couple, this seems logical and natural. The birth of a child is a beautiful dream fulfilled. We prepare his or her room, we plan out educational goals, spiritual goals and physical goals. For the evangelical Christian, this means using Scripture as a guide to that undertaking. We want our child to have the best chance to succeed in an increasingly difficult world.

And so we begin the process of raising this child. We change diapers, hold them, sing to them, teach them to walk, to talk and the difference between right and wrong, according to our own world view. They come out of the womb and for the next roughly 8-10 years, they love us unconditionally. And then...

He or she begins to develop opinions and concepts on their own. Others people - friends, teachers and media (ugh!) - begin to shape our child's awareness and opinions. He or she begins to question our parental decisions and opinions. They begin to tug on the tether that connects them to us. Our role changes little by little from educator to rescuer - through the exercise of their own wills, they get into 'unforeseen' trouble and the natural instinct is to those who are closest to them - and hopefully, that's the parent. Sometimes, however, it is not. After a time however - and now I'm projecting into the future - a conversation partner. Although we always remain mom or dad, we are educator and rescuer still to some degree, our children become self-sufficient and thus our role changes. We become (again, hopefully become) sources of wisdom, love and encouragement for them as they progress to career and a family of their own.

This is all well and good, even understandable to most of us. But there is one important caveat. Parenthood changes us, the parents. This process of raising my two daughters is changing me. It's changing my marriage and it is changing my own self-understanding. The joy, the grief, the happiness and the pain have extracted a price. Now I am still "me" - but I'm a changed me. I am not the man I was 18 years ago when Catherine was born. I've not only been shaped by God, but I've been shaped by the process of parenting Catherine. We come to the adventure of parenting from one perspective and exit the venture from another. We don't just shape our children they shape us, just by coming into our lives. We will never be the same.

Next year, Catherine will attend university. I won't be there. I'll be here.

I hurt already. My little "bear" is a young woman with hopes, dreams and aspirations of her own. I'm still her 'dad' and she still tells me she loves me. She has a good moral grounding and an impressive understanding of the Christian faith. So I think I've basically done my job...

But I'm changed. I'm not ready to let my little girl go just yet. Through all the disagreements when she discovered her own world view to the frustration over boyfriends, I think I love her now more than ever. I know I am proud of her. It hurts to read Genesis 2:24 though: for a child shall leave father and mother and be joined to his/her spouse; and they shall become one flesh (my translation).

Although my hurt is truly sadness - I now recognize the importance of the preceding 18 years - I also realize that the hurt is love. When you love deeply, you become vulnerable. Thus separation becomes a painful awareness of vulnerability. The good news is that you know you have loved your children and loved them deeply. The best news is that I am not alone in this. God stands with me, being a Father and having a Son himself.


  1. Oh, how familiar is your lament. I taught and coached my last child, a son, in high school. I felt all that you describe and then the LONELINESS! walking through the now forlorn empty hallways yearning to have him back with me. But I didn't need to worry, for we had done our job in raising our children, and God has blessed us and them no matter what has buffeted them through the years.


  2. You know, I've known you for 14 years (we're aging a bit), and you are sounding more grounded every day.