With one daughter married and one son in college we have maneuvered carefully the road from childhood to adulthood. When our son Joshua left for college in August of 2011 there was an abrupt and immediate change. Although our relationship began changing over the course of his senior year in our home school, college brought about an immediate physical change.

During his senior year Joshua began to pull away from me physically and emotionally. He was always a very demonstrative child and was never embarrassed to hug me or acknowledge me in public. He and I would spend time together late at night because we are both night owls, and I was willing to take whatever time he had available since I knew this last year of high school would be fleeting. As the year progressed I felt more resistance to my authority, not necessarily disrespectfully but in preparation for leaving the nest. We struggled as teacher and student. Some battles were lost. Some were won.

My son first expressed an interest in getting a tattoo the spring before his high school graduation but started asking more intently around graduation time. He showed me his research and reasoning from the Bible and online. I finally put my foot down and said no, asking him to wait until he got to seminary and could talk to his professors and other students and see if his call to serve in full time  Christian ministry conflicted with his desire for a tattoo. He did not like my decision but finally made peace with it and our relationship was restored.

Joshua and I had always been close so when he began pulling away from me it was hard to recognize as the natural progression to adulthood. The weekend we dropped him off at college he continued severing the ties. His dad and I both cried much of the way home and I wept throughout the long night. Painful struggles for a mom who has spent 18 years raising a son just to let him go.

Of course, my son then came home and got a tattoo on his upper arm during Labor Day weekend.  It consists of the words faith, hope and love in English, Greek and Hebrew. He did not make this decision lightly but prayed about it, sought counsel from his teachers and church leaders and took our feelings into account. He got the tattoo high enough on his arm that he could still wear short sleeves without it showing. I struggled with this first big decision on the road to adulthood. Though now tattooed, I knew that inside that body was still the heart that I worked diligently to capture during his childhood.

The first semester of college was a difficult one for me. Joshua preferred his friends and his new church family over making the drive home. He chafed at any restraints when he was home. His heart was elsewhere, and I didn’t push him to come home. He needed that time to test his new freedoms and prove that he could survive without us. It was indeed a very heartbreaking time for me. As much as I knew it was natural and God-ordained it hurt this mama’s heart.

During his second semester of freshman year he began to pursue us. However, it wasn’t until our 25th wedding anniversary celebration that I believed Joshua wanted to be home again. Home is where he decompresses, catches up on his sleep and bounces ideas off of us. He enjoys time with his younger siblings playing games and meals set apart for family time.

What valuable lessons have I learned these last two years?

Give your young adult room to make mistakes – and learn how to fix them. By always rescuing our children we deprive them of the opportunity to fail and learn valuable lessons from that failure. It also gives us the opportunity to show grace and be a continuing influence in their lives.