You’ve always known the moment would come. But when one of your kids is ready to graduate from high school, it’s easy to feel caught off guard. Adulthood is looming on the horizon, and you’ve got to prepare your child – and yourself – for when he or she leaves home.
Here’s how you can launch your child into adulthood:
Understand that grief is natural. Whether your child’s next step will be college, a job, or the military, sending him or her off can be one of the hardest tasks you ever tackle, because you’ll naturally miss him or her and have to adjust to profound changes in your life. And letting go of your "baby" again when he or she gets married can bring fresh pain. Go easy on yourself, be honest about your feelings, and pray about them.
Remember that good parents work themselves out of their jobs. Think back to the moment when you celebrated your child’s new life at a dedication or baptism. Just as you pledged to cooperate with God’s plans for your child’s life then, realize that you need to do so now. Recognize that the main goal of your parenting has been to raise kids who are able to live faithful and productive lives on their own one day. Rejoice that you’re close to achieving that goal!
Let God’s promises bring you hope. Read God’s many promises in the Bible, and trust in His unfailing love, unlimited power, and constant presence with you.
Recall God’s faithfulness from the past. Remember other significant times in your child’s life when you’ve had to let go to allow him or her to experience greater maturity – such as starting school, getting a driver’s license, beginning to date, or going on a mission trip. As you think about how God helped you successfully navigate that earlier release point, take heart that He will help you let go again. Thank God for what He has already done, and look forward to His future blessings with a trusting heart.
Don’t burden your child with too much emotion. Accept the intense mix of feelings you may be experiencing now – sorrow, joy, grief, celebration, fear, hope, and more. Feel free to express them fully in prayer and when talking with your spouse or close friends. But be careful not to overwhelm your child who’s leaving home with your emotions; doing so can make him or her feel guilty and start to avoid you.
Don’t try to hide your true feelings from your child, but temper your negative emotions with a positive attitude. Think through specific situations you expect to face in the near future (like helping your child pack for moving out), anticipate how they’ll likely make you feel, and imagine appropriate responses to prepare yourself ahead of time. Make sure your child knows that, no matter how challenging this season is for you, you’re cheering for him or her to succeed.
Don’t burden your child with the wrong dreams. Ask God to help you let go of your own personal agenda for your child’s life and accept – and embrace – His dreams for your child. For example, if you’d long hoped that your child would grow up to become a doctor but he’s more interested in music than medicine, don’t try to manipulate him into fulfilling your desires. Adjust your expectations to reality. Realize that God has given your child a special and unique blend of talents, gifts, abilities, and potential. Cooperate with God to accomplish His best purposes for your child’s life.
Make the best of your child’s last days at home. Have fun with your child who’s preparing to leave home. Ask your child to choose a few activities that he or she would enjoy doing with you; then enjoy them together. Confront all your regrets about what you wish you’d done differently while raising your child, and give those regrets over to God by confessing them in prayer. Then accept God’s forgiveness and ask Him to help you forgive yourself and your child for anything that’s harmed your relationship in the past. Move into the future with no regrets.
Help your child understand what it means to be a responsible adult. Sit down with your child who will be leaving soon and discuss these characteristics of responsible adults: making carefully considered decisions, following a moral compass, taking responsibility for their actions, showing consideration for others, helping those in need, speaking and living the truth, paying their own way, investing their resources wisely, taking good care of what has been entrusted to them, and living in the present with an eye on the future. Allow them increasing opportunities to make decisions so they can practice living responsibly.
Model core values. Show your child how much you value biblical principles by investing your own time, money, and emotion into them. Live out your faith in front of your child so he or she can see what a faithful life looks like and hopefully follow your example. Focus on values such as: making God your top priority, concern for others, hard work, truthfulness, generosity, submission, sexual fidelity, family unity and love, boundaries, joy and thanksgiving, rest, care for creation, contentment, and grace.
Teach your child essential skills. Make time to show your child how to: survive and thrive spiritually; study the Bible; cook; wash and iron clothes; budget money; resolve conflict; get along with a roommate; make a decision; handle a crisis; be organized; schedule time; develop healthy eating, sleeping, and exercising habits; and other skills necessary to living a successful life independent of you.
Begin to treat your child like a peer. Start the process of moving from a parent-to-child relationship dynamic to more of a peer-to-peer friendship. Recognize that, while you will always be your child’s parent, you need to start treating him or her as an equal. Ask God to help you respect your child’s growing maturity and relate to him or her as one adult to another (nearly) adult.
Build a friendship by looking for opportunities to learn something together (such as reading and discussing the same book, taking a class together, or ministering side-by-side on a mission trip). Ask your child’s opinion on matters that are important to you. Openly discuss each other’s views, thoughts, and dreams. But try not to argue when your child expresses opinions that clash with yours. Realize that teens on the cusp of adulthood are learning how to think critically and evaluate ideas, and in the process of doing so, your child may alarm or offend you. Don’t lash out in anger if your child says something outrageous, and refuse to be pulled into a pointless debate. Instead, keep calm, listen respectfully, and ask questions to help guide your child to explore the issue reasonably.
Give your child a blessing. Let your child know that you love him or her deeply and unconditionally, that God has a wonderful future planned for him or her, and that you trust him or her to follow God into that future. Make it clear that you appreciate your child not just for what he or she does, but also for who he or she is. Affirm character qualities such as loyalty, sincerity, faithfulness, integrity, honesty, and commitment. Give your blessing on the day your child leaves home. Meet with your child one-on-one, in private, and include a hug or some other physical sign of affection along with your spoken blessing. Reaffirm your blessing through phone calls, e-mails, and letters after your child leaves home.
Make the day your child leaves memorable. Enjoy a special breakfast, lunch, or dinner together. Present your child with a photo album, journal, or other keepsake you’ve prepared for the occasion. Take a hike together and pray as you go. Once your child arrives at his or her new residence, establish a new tradition of something you can enjoy together every time you visit (such as eating at a nearby restaurant).
Prepare for changes to your family’s structure. Hold a family meeting to discuss how you all plan to deal with how life will be different once one of your children leaves home. Consider who will take over the child’s chores, how his or her bedroom will be used, how the family schedule will change, etc. Stay upbeat, emphasizing that this new era gives all family members new opportunities. Don’t try to pressure your younger, remaining children to act like their sibling who is leaving. Affirm their uniqueness and see this season as an opportunity to bond with them more.
Set clear expectations about finances. Thoroughly talk through exactly how much money you plan to contribute to your child’s support after he or she leaves home – if anything – and what strings are attached to that money. Discuss ways your child can plan to pay some or all of his or her own expenses for housing, food, college expenses, etc. Before leaving home, give your child an opportunity to practice what it will be like living on the projected budget.
Help your child keep the faith. Let your child know that you understand the many temptations he or she will face after leaving home. Encourage your child to remember who he or she is: God’s beloved child, for whom Christ died, and in whom the Holy Spirit resides. Pray often for your child to stay connected to Christ and grow in faith. Pray also for your child to find some strong Christian friends, and a good local church in his or her new area. Don’t worry if your child expresses doubts; let him or her know that doubts are healthy because they encourage honesty and the pursuit of real answers. Urge your child to personalize his or her faith rather than just taking it for granted.
Don’t give up when your child messes up. Give your child the freedom of making mistakes and learning from them. Let your child experience the full natural consequences of his or her actions without trying to come to the rescue. Intervene only in dire circumstances where someone will be seriously hurt if you don’t get involved. Give advice respectfully, when your child asks for it, but don’t try to control your child through guilt, bribery, or any other means. Remember how much God has forgiven you, and let that motivate you to always be willing to forgive your child – no matter what.
Look forward to the future. Realize that, even if your nest will be empty when your child leaves home, God has plenty more adventures in store for you. Use this new season in your life to strengthen your marriage and pursue interests you didn’t have time for when your child was still living at home. Know that you’re not done loving others and you’re not done growing spiritually. Take heart that the best may be yet to come!
Adapted from Letting Them Go, copyright 2006 by Dave Veerman. Published by Integrity Publishers, Nashville, Tn., www.integritypublishers.com.
Dave Veerman is the author of many books and was the senior editor of the Life Application Bible. He is owner of The Livingstone Corporation, a company devoted to helping Christians and Christian organizations improve ministry effectiveness. He currently presents Understanding Your Teenager seminars across the country. He holds a M.Div from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Dave and his wife, Gail, have two grown children and reside in Illinois.