A girlfriend shared with me this week how teachers at her child’s school need to almost physically remove parents from their classrooms each morning. The problem sounds familiar. Why else would the principle at our elementary school need to incessantly repeat, “Your child can manage to carry his own backpack. She does not need you to walk her into her classroom and unload her books and snack for her. Trust your child.”
How hard it is to trust our children. How hard it is to give our children wings! We begin building them the moment we first hold those precious children in our arms. We feed them from breast or bottle, looking forward to the day when they can join us at the table. We cuddle and cradle them while we can – don’t we intuitively know those moments can only last so long? – , but praise them when they take those first independent steps. Those independent steps that lead to a wave at the school door as those tiny babies turned children no longer need the hand to support them.
Giving them wings means letting them go. And letting them go means releasing them into the world with all its dangers, joys and snares. Perhaps this is one of the most difficult parts of parenting.
Luckily my children are still small enough that we’re working on little wings like walking alone to afternoon activities or learning to make wise decisions without Mom and Dad’s “yes” or “no”, but I’ve been witness to youth from our church family brandishing wings big enough to take them away for a year. The end of the summer was a regular coming and going at church: two youth returned from a year-long-service-opportunity in the States; two left, one for service, the other for a year of high school in Canada.
Saying good-bye to the latter, a teenage friend who is dear to each member of my family, was especially difficult. But then again, good-byes usually are, aren’t they? My family and I were suddenly left with an empty chair in choir and fewer hugs on a Sunday morning. That’s tough. But what about her parents? As an only child full of incredible energy, she has certainly left behind a quiet house. As good as she is at making her parents pull their hair out, she’s so much better at making them laugh and bringing them joy. Letting all that go for a whole year seems almost reckless.
But is it?
By looking beyond themselves these parents have given their daughter room to flex and stretch her wings. Yes, they miss her. Sometimes maybe even painfully so. But they have ignored the voices warning them not to send their daughter away so early and the ones asking, “isn’t she still too young?” Certainly a year aboard during high school is not for every teenager. But it is right for this teenager. She will not only be able to explore her Canadian roots, but experience the world outside of her sometimes confining German one. She will learn to trust more those fragile wings.
Such a course of action is not without danger. When she returns she will have changed. She will have learned to become even more independent. She will come back full of experiences that will become like treasures inside of her. These might be difficult to share with her community here, and yet, she will be made stronger because of it.
Allowing our children to grow wings can be scary as we forfeit control of everything surrounding our child and even sad as we learn every day just a tiny bit to discharge them into adulthood. But maybe when we can begin to trust them with carrying a backpack, we can one day send them off in good conscience. After all isn’t that why we do our best at this parenting thing? In order to one day be amazed at our well-adjusted, society-worthy adult children?
I applaud my friends for sending their daughter off to her adventure. Is it painful giving our children wings? Certainly. Is it necessary? Absolutely.