The school clothes and sports gear had been bought and the pictures shared and eventually the ‘first day’ had to come. Two of our granddaughters started new schools in the last ten days. Two difficult thresholds have been crossed – one to nursery school, one for the ‘summer school’ to settle her into her new secondary school. Outwardly, we all celebrated. But parents (and grandparents) held their breath hoping that all would go well. So far, it has. These partings bring their own challenges for the children. And parents do their best to prepare them. Growing up is not easy!
For parents a different sort of growing up is involved. Often we are so busy preparing the children, we don’t really think about what the new beginning might mean for us. When a friend of ours posted a video last week of their firstborn leaving them at the airport to study on another continent, I watched it several times with a kind of fascinated horror remembering my total lack of preparation for that experience. When Mike and I parted from our firstborn at the airport as she left for a gap year in Italy, we managed a stiff upper lip for the parting....and then we both cried all the way home. We were no better at our son’s departure for Azerbaijan – and then for a year in Israel – that ‘letting go’ had its own specific challenges.
As a parent, nothing prepares you for this experience. Because it is unique. Life gives you something very precious – probably the most important but vulnerable gift that you’ve ever had. This sort of caring opens up a new place in your heart and mind. It offers fulfilment and deep joy. It demands everything of you – physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually. It will make you laugh and cry and worry and think more deeply than you have ever thought about any other task. It may well re-arrange your priorities.
Seeing the object of your care grow and develop and mature can be the most satisfying (and demanding!) activity of your adult life. All this – and so much more – life offers you when you become a parent. And then, when you think you just might getting used to this parenting business, at the tail-end of one summer, life says to you, ‘Let go now...you must let go...’ And off the precious child goes – to school, to college, to university – to another country, to somewhere, anywhere where you’re not 100% sure that they’re not going to be cared for as well as you have been caring for them!
In our children’s departure times – and at other times of letting go - I have been comforted by two people. One was my mother-in-law who used to say, ‘If you let them go, they will come back...’
My other comforter was the poet C. Day Lewis. His poem about fatherhood, ‘Walking Away’ was stuck to the inside of one of my kitchen cupboard doors for years. I recommend it to any parent struggling with a recent or imminent parting.
The last three lines are my favourites:
‘Saying what God alone could perfectly show
How selfhood begins with a walking away,
And love is proved in the letting go.’