I began crying a full nine months before the event.
No, it was not an unexpected pregnancy—quite the opposite. My eldest daughter was graduating from high school, and I was not sure I would survive.
From August to June, Hannah’s days were filled with drama practice, yearbook meetings, and trips to the village with friends.
Mine were spent worrying about the future, dreading her departure, and doing her chores for her. Since I was going to be miserable anyway, I might as well do it all, right?
When graduation finally came, I could hardly watch Hannah receive her diploma. All I could see was the blond four-year-old that we had brought with us to Asia thirteen years prior. I knew life would never be the same.
In order to “ease Hannah into American life,” we booked a house near her university and planned to spend our six-month furlough in that city. The semester began and, honestly, we saw her about as much as we had during her senior year in high school. Hannah dropped by the house each day, recounting new experiences with the detail that I craved.
Fall break. Thanksgiving. Christmas. All came too quickly. We rang in the New Year by packing suitcases and giving last-minute instructions. The day for our separation had finally arrived. The fourteen-hour flight home was a somber one. I opened the letter Hannah had given me and cried afresh as I read her kind words about family and the home she would miss.
I would like to say that my emotions leveled out over that next semester, but I would be lying. I grieved deeply over Hannah’s absence and it took time for me to truly embrace her adulthood.
What did happen was that I learned several lessons about myself, mothering, and mentoring. Perhaps you can learn from them too.
1. I discovered that I had an addiction to mothering.
Living overseas is not for the faint of heart, and I often grappled with why I had even accepted the call. My husband had a clearly-delineated job, but mine remained vague, reliant on what I could make of it. When in doubt, I comforted myself with pep talks of “at-least-the-girls-needed-me.”
Over the years, mothering took up more of my time rather than less. It was not that the girls needed me as much as that I needed them. Mothering became more about me than about helping my girls grow into adulthood. What began as a sincere purpose to be a conscientious mother morphed into an addiction to being valued. There were periods of time that I definitely honored my daughters above the Lord (1 Samuel 2:29).
2. I learned that part of mothering is to teach your children to leave well. After all, they were created to become mature adults.
I remember reading that to encourage the flight of her eaglets, a mother eagle rids her nest of the soft down feathers and exposes the thorns and thistles underneath. With the comfort of the nest gradually taken away, the young eaglets more eagerly begin the life of flight for which they were made.
Unfortunately, I did not make Hannah’s “nest” uncomfortable; I instead softened it during her senior year. Yes, I gave her more freedom, but rather than making it commensurate upon increased responsibilities, I actually took responsibilities from her to grant her as much “fun” her last year as possible.
This backfired on the both of us during her second semester of university. When the demands of academia clashed with her job schedule, she was not adequately prepared to juggle the stress. Our honor student began cutting class and failing classes. This spilled over into her self-esteem, and soon we were experiencing long-distance melt-downs courtesy of AT&T.
Because God is gracious, Hannah was able to gradually learn these adult lessons and settle into a balanced college life. Today, with her a mother of three herself, she and I often discuss how to best mother with a view toward her children’s adulthood.
3. As Hannah left home, the Lord revealed the value of transferring my mothering skills into mentoring other young adults. I wish I had listened to Him on this earlier.
When your middle-schoolers begin sprouting wings, ask the Lord to show you others who can gain from your experience. You will quickly realize that you will learn just as much from a mentee as they ever will from you. Through my years of empty-nesting, the Father has brought many amazing mentees through my life, once again reinforcing His lessons on communication, challenge, and closure.
The empty nest not only means that you have taught your children to fly. It also means that you now can soar higher yourself. Follow your child’s lead and open your wings (Isaiah 40:31).
Hannah and I, her freshman year in college.