I’m not gonna lie: this empty nesting thing is fantastic.
Before you judge me as callous, remember, the purpose of all this, all you’re doing with these kiddos, is to raise and release. I know it’s hard to imagine now, because they’re so young and cute and all, but picture them at 28: not so cute, kind of hairy, eating your Cheetos Puffs, light years away from a woman, living in your basement (somehow, in these scenarios, we all have basements in East Texas), and playing Call of Duty 34. Uh-huh. Exactly. Empty nesting is looking way better now, huh?
At our stage of life, we’re in the moving business, on a first-name basis with Shelly at U-Haul. This past weekend, I moved one kid out of an old apartment, one kid into a new apartment, and packed one kid into not one, but two vehicles (had to make sure we got all three of our winter jackets to Waco while it’s still August, right?), and sent her back to Baylor. Legit. That was totally my weekend.
Here’s the deal: parenting does not end at college, or young adulthood; not until they lower your body into the grave. It just looks different. And, that’s why I love that the Lord gives us seasons of our lives to use for reflection and reset. Whether it’s Lent and Advent in the Church calendar, or the Sabbath each week, these new seasons in our lives give us moments to pause, take stock of where we have been, and resolve to do things differently and better moving forward.
The beginning of school is definitely one of those seasons. It is a time for fresh starts: new teachers, new opportunities for a clean gradebook, or in some cases a new school, a new team or chance at a starting position based upon hard work over the summer. Yet, the first day of school is also an opportunity for parents, as well. It gives us the rare opportunity to consider what we did well in shepherding our kids over the past year, and what we could improve. And, even though I’m dealing with more adult-type issues and problems, doing more “mouth-shutting” and question-asking, advice-giving only when asked, and a lot more praying, I’m still learning. Like you.
So, I asked my girls what they thought we did right, and what we could have done better. It’s not easy to hear how you blew it as a parent, but it gives you an opportunity to seek forgiveness, and if there’s anything in this, good or bad, that helps you, my brothers and sisters who may be a decade or a decade and a half behind me, then that’s experience well-earned.
Here’s what our kids thought we got right (they’re being generous- I’m not as certain as they are):
- “You cared less about ‘the rules’ than you did about our hearts”-At the end of the day, the heart is everything. Otherwise, they may look good and act right while you’re watching, but be very far from Jesus. Our kids weren’t star athletes, star students, or a star anything. That was never our goal. We had already lived our somewhat middling high school and college experiences ourselves. We didn’t need them to relive it for us, only better. What we needed was for them to love Jesus. To turn to Him when they were sad, or rejoicing, when they had a good day or a bad one. Because in Him they would find all they’d need. So, we sat around the table at dinner (and we made a plan to have dinner as a family a few nights a week-critical) and played “best thing, worst thing.” As we all went around and talked about the highs and lows of our days, it gave us the opportunity to speak God’s Word and Truth into their lives. We had boundaries and rules, but what jumped out to our girls is that we apparently showed them we cared more about their motivations, the inside, rather than the outside. Because we were so passionate that they love Jesus, we wanted to surround them with admirable men and women who did, too. So, they’d be hearing about Him in other lives, other voices. That’s why this school was worth its weight in platinum for us, and why there wasn’t a price too high to pay for it.
- ‘You trusted us unless we gave you a reason not to, and then you restored it quickly”- The best thing we did was to not parent out of fear. Fear is a killer. It causes you to hold too tightly, because you’re afraid of what will happen if you don’t control them; to try to be their buddy, rather than their mom or dad, because you’re afraid they won’t like you; to try to build a shell of protection around them when they’re in upper middle school or high school, because you’re afraid they’ll make bad decisions if you don’t cocoon them. Maybe more than half the reason kids live with such anxiety and depression today is that they feed off the fear of their parents. Here’s the best I’ve got for you: Pray and trust God. Believe that He loves your kid more than you do (He gave them to you, after all). Believe that He wants His best for them more than you do. Believe that it’s really okay for them to see the messiness of the world around them as they get older, and for you to coach them through it. Doing so helps them develop empathy and compassion for people who are hurting, and to learn how to befriend and to be light, which is the whole point. The best time for them to see the messy complexity of the world, all within the Christian context that Grace provides, is still within the four walls of our school and your home. It will teach them to build core relationships with friends who will hold them strong and accountable, yet not be afraid of their friends who struggle. It will make them like Jesus.
And, here’s what we got wrong (among many other things-God has blessedly dulled their memories-take heart!):
- “Sometimes kids don’t actually want advice in the moment of their pain, or always having your point to the ‘here’s the Jesus’ moment”- I wanted so badly to be faithful to the Lord, to point them to Him, even during the hard stuff, that sometimes I did it way too quickly. Sometimes I just needed to hug them, to hold them, to say, “that really sucks, I am so very sorry,” and to cry with them. Sometimes they needed my own empathy and compassion more than a Bible lesson. One thing I love about Jesus is that He just gave people a hug, or a touch, or brought healing where needed. He didn’t always bring the Sermon on the Mount. His presence and compassion were enough. The older I get, the more I realize I say more by being Jesus incarnationally in people’s lives than by speaking Jesus. I wish I had realized that sooner for the sake of my kids.
- “Sometimes you were so busy, caught up in your own stuff, you missed some of the things we were going through.” Being the head of Grace is a pastoral gig. Heads of schools pastor their people, and pastoring always comes at a price. Sometimes that price is borne out in the life of your kids. I always tried to be available to them, but sometimes I was so caught up in everything else, I missed it. They are so right. Please forgive me, girls.
There are many things I’d do differently, if I could do it again. And, yet, I have no regrets. I don’t believe many parents ever truly think, “You know what? I think I’ll screw up my kids today.” The reality is we love them, and we want so much so desperately for them, and we all do our best, just like most of our moms and dads did their best, even if they messed it up badly. The reset, the do-over, the great and gracious gift of loving and serving a great and gracious God, is that we can pray like crazy and do the very best we can, and trust that the omnipotent God of all creation who loves us and wants our best will cover our failures with His overflowing grace. My kids are far from perfect, but they are spectacular. And, this incredible school with its amazing teachers and coaches, indwelled by the Spirit who made all things, rendered that possible. And, that will be your reality, too.