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Training in Life Skills and Letting Go

  • Susan Alexander Yates
  • Published Jun 27, 2001
Training in Life Skills and Letting Go

Leaving—is my child ready? Am I?

Our son Chris was nineteen and his brother, John, was twenty-one, but what they were proposing still scared me to death.

“Mom and Dad, we want to take two months this coming summer and bike across America with our buddies, Nate and Rob. We’d like to start in the Pacific Ocean and finish in the Atlantic Ocean. And we’d like your blessing.”

Everything in me wanted to scream, That’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard. What if a car hits you? What if some crazy person murders you on the side of the road? What if you get in trouble and can’t get help? What if . . . ! Scary thoughts. And this wasn’t just a fantasy. These boys were dead serious.

There were practical questions too. How would you stay in touch with us? How will you make enough money to finance this? How will you train for this and do well in school at the same time? Would you camp the whole way? When would you leave? What roads would you take? Do you know what you are doing? I don’t think so.

We told the boys we would be willing to consider a detailed proposal when they had done more research. Surely they’ll change their minds once they look into it, I tried to convince myself.

A month later, three sets of parents gathered in our family room to hear the boys present their case. They had done massive amounts of research, outlined the whole trip, raised and presented their answers to every question they thought we’d ask. Their research was given to us in a neatly prepared written proposal. And worst of all, they asked us to pray with them about this. I didn’t want to pray. I just wanted to say no!

I had so many fears. So many “what-if’s.” There weren’t any guarantees. It was a huge, unnecessary risk. I wouldn’t be there. I would really have to let go and trust them and God. I was a lot surer of the God part than the boy part. Were they ready for something this big? Was I?

No matter when or where our kids go, it’s hard. It’s painful. After all, it’s a frightening world out there. And we are no longer in control in the way we used to be.

How Do We Handle Their Leaving?

When Lib’s daughter left for college, she missed her terribly. She called every day to touch base and discuss how things were going. She helped her daughter decide which classes to take, what to wear to a special function, how she should handle an awkward roommate situation. She monitored her sleep and made recommendations about which extracurricular activities to join. In short, she directed her daily schedule long-distance. When her daughter called in tears about a blowup with her roommate, Lib spent the day worrying and figuring out how to fix the situation. By evening when she talked to her daughter again, her daughter’s response was, “Oh, Mom, that was no big deal; we’re fine now.”

Although Lib’s intentions were only to be supportive, she was overparenting.

When Sarah’s daughter left for college, her mother breathed a sigh of relief. “She’s on her own now. She’ll either sink or swim.” When they talked on the phone, which was rare, she simply asked how things were going. When her daughter decided she didn’t like her roommate and moved off campus into an expensive apartment, Sarah simply said, “It’s your decision.” When her daughter began to show signs of an eating disorder, Sarah’s response was, “She has to deal with this in her own way. It’s not my responsibility any more.” Although Sarah’s intentions were to give her child freedom in the hopes that she would grow up, she was letting go too abruptly.

Sarah and Lib represent two extremes in parenting: overparenting and abdicating. Usually we will tend toward one or the other. Recognize your tendency and seek to achieve balance. But remember, it will be very awkward for each of us because it’s a new season.

How Do We Maintain Balance?

Recognize That Independence Is Gradual, Not Sudden

We may have the attitude that when they graduate from high school and leave home—“Boom, they’re on their own. My nest is now empty!” Our experience and that of many others has been that the nest isn’t really empty. It’s more of a “Bungee Cord Season” than an “Empty Nest Season”—they bounce back! I don’t think the “empty nest” really begins until they graduate from college and begin their own careers or marry. If they are in college, they have vacations and come home bringing friends, dirty laundry, empty stomachs, and sleep-deprived bodies. As we discussed in the last chapter, high school graduates are usually seventeen or eighteen. They are still underage and usually financially dependent upon their parents, at least to some degree. Their first year out will be the hardest. We have to guard against the extreme that says, When they leave home we are no longer responsible, nor should we interfere.

Instead, we need to let them go in stages. Just because they are gone, they aren’t instantly making all of their own decisions. Yes, they do need to make more and more of their own decisions. And yes, they will make some poor ones. They will learn from their mistakes. But “out of the nest and into college” doesn’t mean our responsibility is over.

Let Go of the Right Things

Lib needed to let go of the daily details of her daughter’s life. Her daughter needed to decide on her classes, what to wear, how to handle normal relationship problems. When her daughter called for advice, Lib learned how to say, “Sweetie, that’s a decision you have to make. I’ll pray for wisdom.” When we turn over decision making to our kids, they will grow in personal confidence. If we have been doing this in stages while they were at home, it will make this transition easier.

Sarah needed to be more involved in her daughter’s life. An eating disorder can be life threatening. Parental involvement is necessary. Large financial decisions should be made jointly. After all, as parents you are probably paying some of the bills. Academics is another area in which the parents should be involved. Skipping classes repeatedly and partying all weekend may impact a semester’s grades. If this is the case by the semester’s end, it’s time to get involved. Moral issues and safety issues also require parental involvement.

Ken and Norma have had five teens. When their kids became teenagers, they challenged each one to make a pledge not to drink or smoke until they were twenty-one. They promised each of them a financial reward if they were able to keep this pledge completely. They knew their kids would be honest with them. Yes, it was hard for the kids. When the fraternity boys tried to get their son to drink, he told them of the pledge he’d made his folks. Although they kidded him, they also let him know that they respected him. In time his actions became a testimony to other collegians: You can be a believer living out your convictions and still have fun.

How you make decisions with your teen is going to depend upon your unique relationship with him and your history of communication. There is not one right way. But if you skipped to this chapter for a quick formula for “letting go,” go back and read the preceding chapters. How you adjust to this season of change will be directly impacted by what has gone on before.

Expect Awkwardness and Some Tension

“Son, I just want you to know that this is a new season not only for you as you leave, but for us as your parents. You may want more freedom than we are ready to give—or you may wonder if the infrequency of our phone calls means that we don’t care! We will have to work extra hard in communicating honestly with each other during this exciting new season. And we have to be patient with one another when we make mistakes.”

In this new season, that old jigsaw puzzle of a family unit has been tossed into the air once again. Now we have to learn how best to relate to an independent child. This may cause some tension in your marriage, especially if you each lean toward a different extreme.

Peg worried about every detail of Justin’s life. When she moved him into the dorm, she took all her cleaning equipment to scrub his room and to disinfect every drawer. She arranged to get his dirty clothes home so she could do his laundry. When he struggled in a course, she drove to his school to help him study. Her husband pleaded with her to let the boy go. “I’m just trying to help. He needs me” was her reply. Not surprisingly, tension developed in their marriage. Listen to your mate. Ask, “Am I too involved, or have I abdicated things I should not?” Talk with a couple whose experience with older children has been good. Learn from them.

We see what can happen if we overparent or if we abdicate too much too fast. Anticipating what lies ahead can enable us to better prepare for this transition season.

How Do We Prepare Them for Leaving?

If we have been “letting go” all along, we will have a much easier adjustment in this new season. If our child has already learned basic life skills, we will be less likely to interfere in the details of her daily life, and we will have prepared her for living in the world. Our role is to equip our kids with life skills. This requires intentional training. If we don’t train them, we unintentionally handicap them in the guise of serving them by doing things for them that they should be doing themselves. Training in life skills begins early. It’s training in responsibility, in independence. This sense of responsibility breeds confidence. Our teens are going to have enough new adjustments in the world without having to learn skills they could have learned at home.

Here are eleven brief life skills to teach your kids. You will want to add to this list yourself, so consider this a starting place. The earlier you begin this training, the better!

1. Teach Them Good Manners
Teach your kids proper table manners. Keep arms and elbows off the table. Sit up straight. Put your napkin in your lap. Leave your fork and knife together when finished. Ask to be excused before leaving the table. Show them how to set a proper table and which utensils to use for what. If you don’t know, check out a book on table settings from your library. This may seem silly in an increasingly casual society and in a family dealing with teens who have more crucial issues, but it’s important. Why? Our job as parents is to equip our kids so that they will know how to behave in whatever place God chooses to put them.

I want my kids to be comfortable dining at the White House or with kings and princesses. And I want them to be comfortable in a simple pauper’s hut. We do not want our kids to be embarrassed because they don’t know how to act. We do not know where God will call them. That’s His job. Our job is to equip them to be able to behave properly in whatever places God puts them, and to know how to honor their host or hostess. Using proper manners is a way of paying respect, of communicating honor to another person. Our kids will not simply pick this up. It has to be specifically taught.

When our kids were young, we occasionally pretended we were dining at the White House. We used good china, linen napkins, lots of utensils, and we practiced good manners. I made it as much of a game as I could. No, my kids don’t have perfect manners. And my husband still tells me to take my elbows off the table! But we are trying.

My friend Peggy, a professional protocol consultant, says that the single biggest irritant transcending all nationalities is the failure to RSVP. Usually the request is simply ignored. We have to realize that this can be costly to a hostess who is being billed per head. It can also mess up seating arrangements. If you RSVP, it is important to show up! We need to teach our children that if there is a last-minute emergency, it is proper to call and offer our regrets.

There are lots of other manners we need to teach. Some of ours include: Stand up when a lady enters the room. Walk your guests to the door when they leave. Greet your family members and guests at the door when they arrive. Offer to help with the dishes. Open doors for others. Walk your dates to the door. And don’t honk when you pick them up! Make your own family list of “good manners.”

2. Teach Them to Write Thank-you Notes
If you read Ann Landers’s column, you will notice that her letters most often fall into two categories: letters from people in pain over affairs and letters from grandparents in pain because they never receive thank-you notes from their grandchildren.

Thank-you notes should be written for any gifts received. Teach your kids to write a thank-you note when someone takes them out to dinner or does anything out of the ordinary for them. Train them to write a thank-you note to the parents of friends they visit out of town or to thank someone for the use of a house or car. When in doubt, instruct them to simply write a note. It is always appreciated. It is a way of honoring and loving someone. It is a positive testimony.

Post a date after Christmas or a birthday by which all thank-you notes must be finished. The use of the car, TV, or computer is prohibited after the deadline, unless notes are finished. If you do this while your kids are at home, they’ll be more likely to follow through on this when they leave home. But you may have to remind them during that first year away. A graduation gift of nice stationery will encourage this habit.

3. Teach Them How to Be Good Guests
Over the years that our college kids have brought friends home, I have received some of the dearest thank-you notes from these guests. I’ve saved many of these notes. They are a tribute to wise parents.

Being a good guest means writing a thank-you note, but it also means other things. Teach them to take a hostess gift. Give them suggestions. Our son Chris went to college a half hour from his grandmother. “Son,” I suggested, “whenever you go see Grandmother, take her some flowers.” When John went to visit his girlfriend’s parents, I helped him fix a basket of jams and jellies to take.

A good guest offers to help with the meal preparation and cleanup. A good guest makes his bed, hangs up the towels in the bathroom, and leaves his room neat. If teens are using someone’s cabin or car or other place, teach them to leave it clean. The owners will appreciate it. And the teens will more likely be invited back.

A good guest sits with adults and talks to them. He looks them in the eye. This takes lots of practice in the home. Help your child think up good questions to ask. Questions like, “What do you enjoy the most in your job? What are you looking forward to in the next several months? What advice would you give to someone my age? Who is someone who has had a positive impact on your life? Why do you admire them?” Develop your own list of good conversation questions.

If your child has a collection of “good conversation starters,” he will be more at ease in communicating with adults. Include him in adult conversations with your friends at home. Clue him in about the adults coming to dinner. Give him suggestions of things he might talk to a specific adult about. What are this adult’s interests? What questions might he ask the adult? The dinner table is a great training ground. But don’t expect instant results. It will take years of doing this at home in order to prepare him to be able to communicate comfortably with adults when he leaves.

How do we teach this without making life miserable? Declare a “good guest-bad guest night.” Divide into two teams and produce two skits each—one depicting a good guest and the other a bad guest. Depending upon the ages of your kids, you can add crazy costumes for fun or see who can produce the best and worst conversations. Several families can do this together. We have to do what we can to make training in life skills fun, while at the same time realizing that it won’t be all fun and it won’t be all learned at once. It takes years of repetition, and we are unlikely to see the results until the late teen years.

4. Teach Them to Clean Up
Doug went off to college with high standards. His faith was strong, and he had a vision for making a difference for Christ on his campus. Midway though his college years, one of the other guys in his apartment came to him and said, “Doug, we’ve asked you many times to clean up your messes, but you haven’t. You are always leaving your dirty dishes out for someone else to wash. Your smelly clothes are left all over the apartment, and we’ve had it. You are self-centered, and you need to deal with this.” It was a painful confrontation for a good guy who was trying to be a witness. And it could have been avoided.

Doug had grown up in a happily messy home. His mom considered herself a “Messie” and was lax in training her children to pick up. He is so busy and under so much pressure, she reasoned. I don’t want to make him pick up too. Besides, it’s just the way he is. It’s his personality.

It may well have been his personality type. Some of us err on the side of messy and some on the side of compulsive neatness, which is also unnerving. But it’s not the personality trait that is at issue here. It’s the character trait. The character trait in question is that of thoughtfulness. It is not thoughtful to your roommates to leave your mess all around. It is not considerate of your future spouse to make a mess and leave it. We are training future roommates, husbands, and wives in thoughtfulness. Teaching them the skill of cleaning up their mess is training in character. Have a chore chart in your home. Set times for the chores to be done and the house to be picked up. Follow through. A conflict like Doug’s is one our child will be less likely to have to deal with when he leaves home if we have had standards of cleanliness and followed through on them in our own home, even if that isn’t our personality.

5. Teach Them to Do Their Own Laundry
Ellen was really concerned about her son. He’d been gone several months already, and she was sure he hadn’t done his wash. So she kept sending him care packages of boxer shorts! By the time he came home for a visit, she’d already mailed him seventeen pairs of boxers in addition to what he took to school!

Steve called his mom the first week of school in a panic. His favorite shirt was the size of a little girl’s. What had happened? All he’d done was wash it and dry it on hot.

Our kids have enough adjustments to make without having to cope with learning to do their own laundry for the first time.

Turn the laundry over to them by the time they reach high school. It’ll be one less adjustment later, and it’ll keep you from overparenting. I discovered my kids could do their own laundry when I accidentally turned all of my son’s T-shirts pink.

“Mom, please don’t do any more of my laundry! I’d rather do it myself.”

He didn’t trust me with his laundry. Wonderful!

I bought five different-colored laundry baskets, one for each child, and when they began high school they assumed the privilege of doing their own laundry. It was washed, dried, and then emptied by them into their basket. Rarely did it make it into their dressers. And it didn’t get ironed until they needed to iron it to wear. But they learned how to do their own laundry!

6. Teach Them to Remember Birthdays
Beth is a single parent with three sons. The first year after her separation, her birthday came and went, and none of her teenage sons remembered it. Not only were her feelings hurt, but she also realized that there was a bigger issue here. She was raising future husbands who would need to know how to pamper their wives on their birthdays. So she sat her boys down and explained to them how their forgetfulness had hurt her. She talked with them about how women need to be treated and gave them specific suggestions for what they could do for future birthdays, Mother’s Day, and Christmas. The next year she humorously reminded them. She’d say, “Hey, guys, what happens in ten days?” The following day she’d say, “Hey, guys, what happens in nine days?” She also gave them a long list of suggestions for gifts. This basic life skill will help them in the future.

Many of us buy gifts for our kids to give to others. We must begin to turn this responsibility over to them during the teen years, before they leave home. Give them a list of dates to remember. Include their grandparents’ birthdays on it. Help them begin to budget to pay for the gifts or cards themselves. Give them suggestions for a gift or card, but let them buy it and mail it. If they learn this before they leave home, they will be more likely to follow through later, and they will have assumed another responsibility that will help them in either single or married life. When they leave for college, give them a card or calendar with important birthdays, addresses, and e-mails written in on it. Be prepared to remind them that first year. But don’t do it for them.

7. Give Them Basic Medical Knowledge
Do I go to the doctor or not? Am I really sick or just tired? What medicine do I take for this? Can I take my roommate’s medicine? These questions can be difficult to answer and frustrating for the parent miles away. Begin now to teach your child basic first aid. Prepare a first aid kit for him. Include Tylenol or ibuprofen, Nyquil or something similar for flu symptoms, Neosporin for cuts, an antihistamine for allergies, cortisone cream for bites, yule cream for poison ivy, Pepto-Bismol for an upset stomach, a thermometer, an ice pack, and plenty of Band-Aids! Warn him against sharing his friends’ prescription drugs. Be sure he knows what to use when. Make sure he has your insurance information and knows how to use it.

When in doubt tell your kids to go to the student health center. Mononucleosis is rampant on college campuses, and if your teen is sick for over a week, he should see a physician.

8. Teach Them to Manage Their Own Finances
Much of this we covered in the “Hot Topics” chapter, but it has to be mentioned again because money can be a tremendous source of tension if the skills of handling it have not been taught.

Dy Vest, a young student, owns two T-shirts that he says cost him $2,500. He got the shirts for free when he signed up for two credit cards at the campus center during freshman orientation. Within a year he had bills of $2,500 that he could not pay. Later he had to drop out of school for a semester to pay off his credit card bills. Now he’s been debt-free for two years.

According to national studies, between 55 and 70 percent of college students own at least one credit card. Between a third and a half of these students don’t pay their monthly credit card bills in full. On today’s campuses it’s almost impossible to avoid the credit card pitches. Easy applications are found in orientation gift bags, hanging on bulletin boards, and in the mail.1 Wise parents will determine their credit card policy before their teen leaves home. A credit card should always be paid off in full before the due date.

Before your child leaves home, draw up a proposed budget that includes what expenses are his responsibility and what are yours. For example, who is going to pay for his phone calls? Our policy has been that our kids pay for all calls they make to anyone other than family members. I pay for calls home and to siblings and grandparents. I want to encourage these relationships, and my paying for these calls makes it easier for them to call a brother or sister. As you work these issues out, insist that your teen write down where every penny goes the first semester. It may help to give him a financial record notebook and together create categories of anticipated expenses.

He may be shocked to discover just how much of his semester’s money goes for late-night pizza. She may be astounded at how much her own phone bill is. During semester break go over these records and make adjustments for second semester. Plan to discuss together any major expenses—before they are incurred—during this first year. There will be adjustments. You will have expenses you did not anticipate, so plan for a cushion.

9. Teach Them to Make and Keep Their Own Appointments
“Mrs. _____, your son was supposed to come in today to have his teeth cleaned, and he hasn’t shown up yet. We are calling to find out where he is,” the message on the machine repeats.

With a huge groan, you slump into a chair. He forgot again. I forgot to remind him. I can’t remember everything. I have too many other things to keep up with. And when I try to schedule his appointments, it always seems to interfere with his life, and he gets irritated. What am I going to do?

Whoa. Call a halt. Why are you scheduling his appointments, anyway? It’s a life skill he needs to be responsible for before he ever leaves home. By his sophomore year he should be responsible for making and keeping his own appointments for the dentist, doctor, and the like. Yes, he needs to clear the date with you and arrange for transportation, but that’s his responsibility. Many doctors charge a fee if the appointment is not canceled twenty-four hours prior to the visit. If he forgets, the fee is his responsibility. (Okay, if he’s usually responsible and forgets one time, grant him grace and pay the fee, but just this once.)

A larger issue is at stake here, as in almost every one of these life skills. It’s time management. Your teen knows his own schedule best, and he must learn how to fit necessary appointments into his busy life. If you do it for him, you are only going to make it harder for him to control his life when he leaves home.

Teach him how to use the yellow pages. Sure he can dial information, but it costs extra. Where is the best repair shop for his guitar? Who has the most competitive prices for software? What about auto repairs? What bank offers the best account for his needs? Let your teens begin to do such necessary research while they are in high school. A complex society has lots of details that can be a nuisance. If our teen learns how to handle these while he is at home, he will have a more realistic picture of what real life is about and one less adjustment to make when he leaves home.

10. Teach Them Basic Auto Mechanics
Both Johnny and I are hopelessly unmechanical. Even though my dad made me change a tire twice before he let me get my license, I still don’t know what line is positive and what is negative on the battery. Johnny is just a little bit better than I am, but thank goodness we have Jerry! Our friend and neighbor, he knows everything about cars. When our boys were teens, Johnny asked him to teach them basic auto mechanics. Jerry showed them how to check the belts, when to change the hoses, fill the radiator, and much more.

Basic automobile knowledge is a life skill all our kids need, both boys and girls, even if they don’t have a car themselves. One day they will own a car, and they may occasionally drive a friend’s car on campus.

Before they go, they need to know: how to check and add oil and other fluids, how to change a flat tire, how to recharge a dead battery, how to drive manual in addition to automatic transmission (in an emergency they may have to drive either), how to spot unevenly wearing tires, and how to handle other basic repairs.

If you don’t have this knowledge yourself, organize one special Saturday morning “Auto Mechanics Class” at your church and ask a member who does know to teach the teens (and the parents who need it!).

In addition, be sure your teen knows your insurance policy, and when and how to get your car inspected. Have him take your car in for the next inspection. Explain what to do in case of an accident. Remind him that if he borrows a car, he should return it clean, with a full tank of gas.

11. Teach Basic Meal Planning
Our son Chris went off to college with a rice cooker and a tight budget. First semester he signed up for too many activities, slept too little, lived on rice and pb&j sandwiches, and came home at Christmas with mono. It was a painful lesson in nutrition and time management!

An understanding of good eating habits begins at home. With the rise in eating disorders, an understanding of nutrition is particularly important. Encourage your schools to teach nutrition as a part of their health unit. Challenge your teens to do a paper on nutrition for a class. If you home school, teach a unit on basic nutrition. Practice good eating habits yourself. Give each of your teens a simple cookbook. Assign two siblings one special night to cook. Give them several days’ notice. Have them do the meal planning and the shopping. Show them how to clip coupons to save money. Be sure you praise them for their meal even if it isn’t your favorite dish.

When we go on family vacations, we divide up the cooking and cleaning responsibilities. It’s the only way I get a break! This tradition has evolved into a family cook-off. Each evening two different people are paired up to do the cooking. They plan the menu, do the shopping, prepare the meal, and clean up. I pay for the food. Over the years, the kids have developed their own specialties. This summer Chris and his wife, Christy, made crab cakes, fresh corn, and an exotic salad. He’s come a long way from rice and pb&j sandwiches!

Okay, by now you are either feeling pretty good about your parenting, or you are a bit panicked. My child’s a senior. I have to teach it all this year! This is one sure way to make your life and his miserable. Balance is needed. You do not have to make your child perfect before he leaves home. On the other hand, if you’ve been doing most things for him, you definitely need to let up and turn more over to him.

I took a walk recently with my friend Barbara. Her son is going into his senior year. All of a sudden it has hit her that she has so little time to “finish” with this child.

“Susan,” she said, “I feel like I’m always on his back. I’m such a perfectionist, and I want to make sure he knows everything he needs to before he leaves. He still has so many rough edges. But I sense he’s resenting me. Our relationship is not comfortable.”

“You’ve done a great job with this son,” I responded. “He’s got a strong faith. He’s a leader in school and at church. He’s conscientious, and he’s a good boy. Quit trying to make him perfect in this last year. Instead, ENJOY him. Thank God each day for one trait that you appreciate in him, and then tell him from time to time what you appreciate about him. Spend time with him once a week with no agenda. Hang out simply to be with him. Go for a walk together. Go get ice cream. He may not respond because he’ll suspect you have an agenda—but persist. Over time he will warm up, and you will have spent your last year with him building a friendship instead of trying to make him perfect.”

Now, what about you? Are you ready for your teen to leave?

On a good day you don’t want her to leave. On a bad day you can’t wait for her to leave!

You will vacillate in your emotions. So will she. That’s normal. But you need to take time to get yourself ready, especially if you are the mom.

A wise woman will begin to prepare for life after kids before they ever leave. Take a class, go back to school, investigate a new career. If you’ve been at home full-time, this is particularly important. It will be far easier on you and on your teen if you have something meaningful to occupy your time when she is gone. You will be far less likely to overparent.

It’s important for Dad to encourage Mom in this new endeavor. Her gifts and talents may have been on hold for some time. She needs positive encouragement as she seeks a fresh focus. Understand that a child’s leaving will likely have a greater impact on Mom than on Dad. Change can cause dissension in a marriage. Talk about the changes ahead of you before they happen. Share your hopes and fears with one another. Determine specific things you will do to grow closer during this time as a couple. Specific plans will protect you from drifting apart in this new season.

Our boys did bike across America. Chris, Rob, and Nate began with their feet in the Pacific Ocean at Canon Beach, Oregon. John joined them in Kansas, and sixty days after takeoff they peddled sunburned, tired, lean bodies through a large banner into a crowd of family, friends, and press—and into the waves of the Atlantic Ocean on the coast of Virginia Beach.

Two months full of incredible adventures—illness, accidents, extraordinary kindness from strangers, amusing encounters with local characters, spiritual growth, and yes, an advanced course in life skills.

For me it was a painful summer of letting go. Of staying in Psalm 91 and on my knees in prayer. Of relying on God’s faithfulness in a new way. It wasn’t easy. But letting go is never easy.

It wasn’t easy for God to let go of His Son and send Him to this earth where He would be misunderstood, ridiculed, worshiped, hated, and finally crucified. And yet He did it out of His incredible love for you and for me. He understands how we feel as we enter this season of letting our child go. He is a parent too.

But wait! There is also joy in letting go! We see that our kids have learned some life skills after all. Their confidence has grown. They’ve accomplished something new. Yes, there have been failures, but they’ve pressed on. And in this process God has again taught their parents that these children belong to Him. In letting go, we are simply giving them again into the hand of the One who loves them even more than we do.

Focus Questions

Meditate on Psalm 91.

1. How does this psalm encourage you as you let your child go?
2. Would you say that you tend to overparent or to abdicate too quickly? What can you do to become more balanced?
3. Discuss with your spouse (or another couple) some of the life skills you want to teach your child. Include the age you want to begin the training and two or three ways you will accomplish it.
4. What steps do you need to take as a couple or individually to prepare yourself for your teen’s leaving?
5. What can you do to give your child a blessing as he leaves?

Meditate on 1 Corinthians 1:8 and 2 Timothy 1:12. Use a concordance to look up related verses about God’s faithfulness. Write a letter to God thanking Him for specific ways He has been faithful to you and to your teens.

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.” - Psalm 91:1–2

Susan Alexander Yates is an accomplished author, magazine columnist for Today's Christian Woman, regular guest on radio programs, and a much-in-demand speaker on family life. She is the author of several books, and along with her husband, John, speaks on marriage and family throughout the country. Yates and her husband currently live in Falls Church, Virginia.

Excerpted from And Then I Had Teenagers by Susan Alexander Yates. Used by permission of Baker Book House Company, copyright 2001. All rights to this material are reserved. Materials are not to be distributed to other web locations for retrieval, published in other media, or mirrored at other sites without written permission from Baker Book House Company.

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