“Train up a child in the way he should go, And when he is old he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6
I was there. I saw it all happen. A mother and father in their early thirties walked with their young son to the bus stop and waited for the school bus to arrive. A few short minutes later the big yellow bus turned the corner and rolled into sight. The lights began to flash. The stop sign sprang forward. The doors swung open, and this young family looked at each other with sadness in their eyes. A quick kiss on the cheek, a big hug, a forced smile and off he went. He walked up the steps and found a seat. So big, so brave, so grown up, headed off to the first day of school.
The doors of the bus closed behind a few older kids as they scrambled to get to their seats. The stop sign returned to its closed position as the lights stopped flashing. The sounds of the motor and the smell of the propane diverted most people’s attention from the mom and dad as they hugged each other, wiped away the tears and began to walk slowly back toward their house. It was an emotional moment that I understood completely.
As a father of four children, all under the age of eight, I’m learning daily that one of the most difficult lessons that any parent has to learn is how to let go. That is something that we all learn – willingly or unwillingly – as parents. This lesson begins as soon as we bring our first baby home from the hospital. We bring that little bundle of joy home, and we want to hold them all night long, but we have to let them go to sleep. We love holding them as they take those first steps, but soon they can walk on their own, and we have to let go. We like holding their hand as we walk around the neighborhood, or into the church building, but soon they are telling us that they can do it by themselves. We hold onto the back of their bicycle after having removed the training wheels, but then they peddle past our grip, and we have to let go. Fast forward a few years and we’re letting go as they drive off to college or walk down the aisle to say “I do” in front on a preacher. A parent has to get good at letting go.
Usually, as parents, when we read this verse from Proverbs we focus on the training or the departing. But, I believe that there is something that we can learn from the word “go.” You see, one of these days that that we welcomed into our home is going to “go.” It’s a natural part of life. They will leave our home to “go” start one of their own. However, just because this is natural doesn’t mean that it’s easy. In fact, I’ve observed that it is one of the hardest things that a parent faces.
Recently I was thinking back to when I was a student at Union University, and my parents moved to Birmingham, Alabama. It was a traumatic time for my parents, my dad especially. You see, we have always been a very close family. We spent a lot of time with each other growing up and love it more than anything still. Even to this day we barely go a day without talking by phone – most days multiple times. Well, a couple of days after my folks had moved my mom told me how my father would walk out to the driveway and look at where my truck was supposed to be, shake his head and say to himself, “It’s just not right. It’s just not right. Brad’s truck is supposed to be there.” Letting go was a hard lesson for my dad to learn, and it’s proving to be a hard lesson for me to learn as well.
So, how can we, as parents, learn to let go? How can we fulfill our responsibility of raising our children in “the nurture and admonition of the Lord” while at the same time preparing them to “leave and cleave?” Let me share with you three little thoughts from this short, practical, proverbial promise.’
1. Train up. This is our main job as parents. In spite of what I see so often today we’re not called to be our children’s “buddy” or “BFF.” (I personally believe this is one of the reasons that some parents have such a hard time letting go. To them, they are not so much “losing” their child, but their “best friend” or “buddy.”) Remember this: God hasn’t called us to be our children’s “pal.” He’s called us to be their “parent.”
As parents then, our primary responsibility it to teach our children how to love and live for God. Now, there’s a lot more involved in that simple statement, but that’s our basic job. And as parents we are to use every opportunity – sitting together at our house, walking around the neighborhood, when we get up in the morning, when we go to bed at night – to train and prepare our children for this world and one to come.
2. Turn loose. It does sound sad doesn’t it? I know. You’ve put a lot of time, effort, love and attention into your child. You’ve changed their diapers, wiped their noses, made sure they ate right and got enough sleep. You’ve cried with them and laughed with them. You have poured your life into theirs, and now God wants you to let them go? Yes. That’s why we do those things as parents – to prepare them for this day. You see it is the “leaving” that prepares the way for the “cleaving.” Our children have to leave our home in order to make one of their own.
Perhaps here is a good place to talk to those parents who are a little farther down the path than I am. You see, one of the things that I have noticed in my counseling sessions as a pastor is that many times a parent’s inability to let go can hinder or even harm the marriage of their children. Sadly I have sat in my office and listened as a husband shared about a father-in-law that was always second-guessing his decisions as a husband or father. I have also often heard of how mother-in-law was always waiting with open arms for her little girl to come running back home anytime she wants. Of course, I’ve heard of it working the other way or working out great too.
Here’s my unsolicited, pastoral advice for those of you who’ve let go and now are a father-in-law or mother-in-law: eyes open, hands off, mouth shut. Your role is now similar to a fire alarm – “Pull in case of emergency.”
3. Trust God. This proverb isn’t saying that your children won’t ever wander or roam. It’s not suggesting that they will never mess up or even blow it from time to time. It is not a promise that everything will always be wonderful, and there will never be any problems in your family. We have all seen too much of this life, and the trouble that comes to even godly families, to think that. But, it is saying this: If you fulfill your calling as a parent to train your children according to how the Lord created them, and according to the principles and precepts of His Word, you can trust God with the results.
Learning to let go of our children isn’t an easy or enjoyable lesson to learn. It involves a great deal of maturity, patience, and trust. I guess that’s why God gave this job to grown-ups – to us as parents.