I remember it like it was yesterday. She bopped up to the front door of her new school in pigtails, all ready for her first day of kindergarten. After giving her a big hug, I walked back to the car with leaky eyes, feeling all the feels. I was excited for our daughter's new adventure, but I knew the page had turned and things would be different from that point forward. Beyond knowing numbers, letters and how to spell an 11-letter last name, I hoped we had given her a fierce sense of adventure and thirst for learning that would serve her well through the years.
Fast-forward to 2010. There I was again, except this time the drop-off was different. She was actually moving into a dorm, and we were driving home. Wasn't this the goal, to work ourselves out of a job? I mean, this is what we'd been preparing her for throughout her life, right? As we drove away, my eyes started leaking again. I thought about all we tried to instill in her from the time she entered kindergarten to high school graduation, in between eye rolls, heavy sighs and being "the only parents who (you fill in the blank)," and I wondered what actually did sink in. Once again, I found myself praying we'd prepared her for the road ahead.
Whether your child is heading off to kindergarten or launching from the nest, letting go can be hard. Sometimes it can feel like a real identity crisis, especially since the focus has been on the children for so many years. Now it's time to pull back a bit and let them gain their footing.
If this is a first for you, here are some things to help you navigate a new normal.
» Remind yourself that one of the ultimate goals of parenting is launch. If you need a little motivation, just think about the alternative: a 30-year-old sitting on your couch, playing video games day and night.
» Get busy. In the midst of perhaps a tinge of identity crisis, think about all of the things you wanted to do over the years, but never had the time or energy because you were focused on your children's needs. The silence at home can initially be deafening, but finding something to do with the additional time on your hands can soften the blow of coming home to an empty house. It can also help you avoid second-guessing your parenting and whether or not you have given your child what it takes to be successful.
» Connect with parents who are a bit beyond you in the parenting journey. Don't look for perfect parents, though. Instead, look for the ones who haven't been afraid to let their kids fly, fail and fly again. It's encouraging to know parenting isn't about perfection, but about being present and allowing your children to learn and grow into the person they are called to be.
Just last week, my daughter reminded me that she's 25 and she's good. I laughed on the outside, but on the inside, maybe not so much. Don't get me wrong: I love that she is living her life and being responsible, but I think even when your kids are grown, you still look out for them and want the best for them.
During a conversation with a dad a few weeks ago about adult children, he said, "Once a parent, always a parent." That statement is definitely true, but how you engage is very different. Hopefully, your adult child doesn't need you as much, but they'll want to be around you because they enjoy your company.
Julie Baumgardner is president and CEO of family advocacy nonprofit First Things First. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.