The truck was packed with a tent, a bag of rock climbing gear and a homemade turkey sandwich with mustard and pickles. I slipped in an envelope filled with emergency cash and a sack of extra groceries. I went over the normal driving precautions again and handed out some motherly advice. At last my 20 year-old son, Will, pulled out of the drive and began a 2,000-mile trip across the continental United States. Alone.
I didn’t know where he would sleep.
I didn’t know his exact schedule. He had to be in Northern California in 15 days, but I didn’t know what side trips he would make or who he would meet along the way.
I didn’t know why I let him go.
I stood there praying, barefoot and teary in the driveway, thinking, “Well, I’m certainly not mother of the year.”
You may not agree with our decision to let our son go rock climbing, hiking and camping across the U.S. alone—I am not sure I agree, either. But we let him go because he has such an adventurous spirit—it’s just hard to hold him back. While his trip wasn’t a bad thing for a young guy to do, it still made me feel like a bad, negligent mother. I made the decision and then I felt guilty.
As a Mom, you do your best, but the decisions are hard. Sometimes I have worn my knees out in prayer, begging God to help me know what to do. Maybe you can relate. There are times when you just don’t know if you made the right decision and you stand barefoot in the driveway feeling like you’ve just been named “worst mom of the year.”
I am finally realizing, as my children get older, that who they are and what they do isn’t really about my parenting or me. Sure Mike and I have had a big impact on our kids, but ultimately their lives are not reflections of us. God holds each person accountable for his or her own behavior (Rom. 14:12), but sometimes we Moms tend to feel accountable, too. If our kids fail, somehow it’s our fault. When they do well, we feel like it’s our achievement. Honestly, even though we may feel like this, our children’s failures and successes are not really all about us.
When we take on the blame and responsibility for each of their ups and downs, we treat our children as if they are extensions of us rather than separate people. I’ve had to learn that my children are not a display of all that I am, but rather of who they are. I must respect and honor them as individuals. Each one must live according to God’s plan, not Mama’s. I must encourage them to be followers of God, but not to be clones of me.
Learning this is hard, but it takes away some of the pressure of parenting. My children are ultimately accountable for themselves, as I am accountable for myself. I will not always make the right decision. My children won’t either. Thankfully, God doesn’t shift guilt around, so parents should not shift it onto themselves. It’s easier to apologize to our children as we make mistakes–this frees us from a heavy load of guilt. It’s better to have faith and choose peace after we’ve made a decision, rather than continue to beat ourselves up about it.
Even though I was unsure (and not very peaceful) about Will’s trip, he had a grand adventure. He slept in state and national parks, saw the Grand Canyon, hiked and rock climbed all over Yosemite, and made some great friends. A caustic security guard searched his car for bombs at Hoover Dam. He met a guy who looked and acted like a vampire. He went for days without a shower. Thankfully, he had no serious trouble. In those two weeks, he had ups and downs and problems to work out, but he did well.
He arrived in California worn out and a bit wiser. In August, he drove back home going well over 4,000 miles round-trip. It was a defining summer in his life and I am proud of his independence and ingenuity—none of which he got from me.
We took this picture the moment Will returned to Huntsville. I was relieved; he was empowered. Was it the right decision to let him go? Maybe, maybe not–it’s best to let it go. His trip wasn’t really about me anyway.
This Mother’s Day, resist the temptation to measure your parenting success by your children’s success. Remember that even though you have a huge effect on your children, the outcome of their lives does not rest solely on you. Do your best, trust God with the rest, and have a Happy Mother’s Day.
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So very true, May. Made me think of Kahlil Gibran’s words about children. “You may give them your love but not your thoughts. For they have their own thoughts. You may house their bodies but not their souls…
Though I do believe a mother has more influence than she gives herself credit for.
I like that quote Carolyn. I wish I had known that a few years ago. I might have enjoyed being a mother more.
May – so needed to read this. Thanks so much for sharing and reminding me that God is in control of all things -especially our children, as they were His first, last and always.
Well said Amy. Have a Happy Mother’s Day!
So true — we want to control every step of our children’s lives — but thank God, He steps in when we let go.
May, I always love what you are inspired to share with us.It is hard to believe the boys are grown now.I remember when they were born.You are and have always been such a wonderful Mother. All of your children are blessed.I hope you have a lovely Mother’s Day,sweet friend..
Great to read this…I know I’ve felt that way before and my kids aren’t even old enough to make such grand decisions. Letting go for me is sending to the mailbox alone. :-) Thank you for your words of wisdom and insight.
You are welcome Carrye! I think most Moms have trouble letting go, and so have I. God is teaching me to trust Him with my kids–some days I do that better than others. Have a Happy Mother’s Day!
One of my favorite quotes is: “It is not a parent’s responsibility to have Godly children – It is a parent’s responsibility to make sure THEIR CHILDREN have Godly Parents!”
We are entrusted with these treasures for just a little while. They were God’s first and HE loves them more than we do, which is hard for a mamma to fathom!
Great read and great reminder for us mammas that can always find things to feel guilty about! Letting go and letting God (once again) and I’m sure I will have to do it a million more times ! GoGod
May, I loved your article!!! I know you TRUSTED GOD and Will–or you would not have let him go on this trip. I know you went before God’s throne many, many times. The memories that Will made will last a life time. Thank you for sharing!
This is beautiful, May!