“But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not be weary, they will walk and not be faint.”
— Isaiah 40:31
I watched Rebekah gracefully cross the stage to accept her certificate, confident and composed, as my mind flashed to her 4-year-old-self. I saw her in her purple sequined tutu and her first pair of tap shoes, blissfully on stage at her first dance recital. Her wavy hair was piled on top of her head in a messy bun with a purple feather hat tipped to the side. She grinned from ear to ear as the music faded up. Her brown eyes sparkled as she danced.
I remembered the challenging middle school years where girls hurled insults and hurt her tender heart. Mean Girls wasn’t just a movie. It was a shocking reality for my young teen. She navigated rejection and learned important lessons about friendship.
High school brought endless leadership opportunities and growth. And here we were at the end and our calendar filled with events: the final choir concert, spring musical, National Honor Society banquet, prom, Student Council banquet, Speech banquet. She blissfully walked through each event while I thought my heart would break in two.
How can a mom experience such joy and sadness in the same moment?
Releasing a Child into Adulthood
I was on the cusp of releasing another child. This was child number four. You’d think it would be easier, but each one cut me to the core. Bittersweet was the best way to describe it. I could see how God had grown my girl, but the thought of her leaving me filled me with sadness.
We will all face these moments as our teens prepare to graduate from high school. How do we navigate this shift? Some moms feel immense grief while others are jubilant and ready to see their baby soar. What can you learn from a mom who has been through this five times? Here’s my confession:
Lessons I Learned
1. We live in the tension of holding on and letting go.
It’s normal to vacillate between sadness and joy. One moment we feel our hearts burst with pride and another moment we only think of what we are losing. On Monday, we are elated as we dream about what to do with their empty room and by Wednesday, we weep over the thought of not hearing their voice each morning. Friday leaves us annoyed as our independent teen snaps at our question about her graduation party. We will be happy when the tension leaves our home.
We are up.
We are down.
We are all around, as a case of whiplash sets in.
All these emotions are normal. It doesn’t matter if it is child number one or number six. We will experience a vast array of feelings. This is the cost of love. This is a time we extend grace to ourselves, as we simply give ourselves space to process our feelings with God. When we pour it all out, God comforts us.
2. We wonder what this season holds for us.
We feel uncertain about our new role in the world where we are not focused on our children. Until we find a new rhythm, we might struggle with identity for a little while. We are not just moms. We have gifts and passions to pursue and the freedom to focus on ourselves. We are liberated.
3. We recognize our children are becoming.
The culmination of high school can feel like a child’s crowning achievement or it can be our child’s greatest failure. Know that high school is one small section of your child’s life and there is much good and growth ahead. We settle our hearts on the truth that God is not done yet. He will continue to lead our children to better things. Trust the stormy process some of our children wade through. Moms who abide in Christ will be able to weather any storm her children experience because we entrust them to God.
4. We will face our fears.
So many worries loom as our children move to the next phase of life. Some will attend college or the military. Others go straight to the workforce or take a leap year to understand themselves better. Most of our children will move away. Hopefully, we have allowed our maturing teen a level of freedom and they have proved to be trustworthy.
When worry or fear arise, it is time to move closer to God. As we talk about our fears with God, He is able to minister truth from His Word. He is ready to comfort us and help us commit to trust. This will be the season our faith grows.
It helps to realize most of the things we worry and fuss about never happen. They are scenarios we concoct in our minds that rob us of peace. It doesn’t mean our children won’t have trials, but we realize these are allowed so they can learn to rely on God for themselves. If and when tragedy strikes, we have a faithful God who will see us through.
5. Our children will make their faith their own.
Some children have slid by on the faith of their parents. They never truly forge a relationship with God on their own. This process can be painful to watch as our children question everything about their faith. It feels like we are losing them. We wrestle with feelings of failure and shame. Where did I go wrong? Why are they walking away from God?
We must allow our children to wrestle with what they believe about God. We need to be a safe place for them to be honest. It helps if we do not make their wrestling about us. This is for them, to help them understand God more clearly. If we hold on, listen well, and trust the process, our children often emerge on the other side with a vibrant faith of their own.
Momma, You Aren’t Alone
Some of you feel unsteady, while other moms are thrilled to see their baby thrive in the next stage of life. Both are normal responses. You are called to release a child you have held on tightly to for 18 years. You have permission to feel what you are feeling.
Remember, you don’t walk this road alone, momma. God is near and ready to give us strength to release our children. As we place our hope in God, He will strengthen us for the task of letting go.
“But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not be weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40:31)
As we walk into this final month of all “the lasts,” know our gracious God is near and ready to help us along the way. We are held. We are secure in our capable God’s hands.
A Prayer for Moms with a Graduating Senior
Dear Papa, This is a big month for me as we settle into the final events of my child’s senior year. I need you to help me process the emotions. Help me understand You are still at work and I can trust Your good plans for my child, even when my child is far from me. Help me enjoy these beautiful moments with my child. Give me courage to face the future with You.
Pamela Henkelman is an enthusiastic encourager with a passion to speak, write, and coach. She believes all of life flows from our loving union with God. She helps Christian moms navigate their changing roles with their adult children through intimacy with God. Learn more on her website or on Instagram. Pamela lives in the Midwest and is married to her Pastor. They have five adult children and two grandsons.