The Joy of Sending Your Children Off

The other day I dropped my oldest son off at the airport for his first ever flight alone. He was traveling to visit my brothers and planning to spend a couple of weeks working on the farm of a family friend. As we drove to the airport I was surprised by the emotions that I felt. We had been planning this for months and had plenty of time to get used to the idea, but when the moment came I was more emotional than I expected.

What surprised me more than anything was the particular emotions that I was feeling. Of course I experienced some nervousness at sending my 12 year-old off on his own. And I experience some excitement at all the new experiences ahead of him. But the overwhelming feeling I had as we drove down Sepulveda Blvd. and the airport came into view was joy.

There was a deep satisfaction that came from sending off my first-born son. This was just the first step in a number of send-offs that will (Lord willing) take place over the next decade or so, but it just seemed to make sense. Seeing our kids get older and beginning to send them off into the world is how this was designed to work. It is the point of the role we are playing as their parents.  It is the culmination of this particular seasonal calling.

On reflecting on this joy I was saddened by the thought of how many parents are robbed of the joy of sending their children off. Whether it’s to summer camp, to a mission trip, to college, or to any form of independence, many parents feel all sorts of emotions other than joy. The main joy thieves seem to be connected directly to the temptations we experience with any calling. As we walked through the “Calling” section of the discipleship pathway recently we discussed how things go awry when we view our callings as either idols or inconveniences. This is never truer than with our calling as parents.

The Idol of Raising Children

We all know the extreme versions of child idolatry. They look like a life that caters to a child’s every desire and need. They involve spending every weekend chasing sports teams around the state or every weeknight rushing constantly from one activity to the next. But the idolatry of child rearing can take much more subtle forms as well. It looks like parents who slowly but surely begin to see their identity as parents first, before spouses or even children of God. It looks like deep sadness as the seasons turn and kids grow up and they no longer fit on your lap or ask you to play. It looks like being filled with fear and loneliness when the time comes to send a child off.

The reality is that our relationship with our children was never designed to be static. To wish that it would slow down or stand still is to miss the point entirely.  Parenting in the home is not our identity, it’s not who we are, and it’s not even the longest lasting season of our relationship with our children (Lord willing). The season of parenting young children in your home is designed to be just that, a season. And the purpose of the season is to faithfully teach them and train them and to prepare them for the adulthood that will, in most cases, make up the majority of their time on earth. When we remember this, each culminating step in the process can be a source for real and powerful joy. Each incremental “sending off” is a step forward in the purpose we’ve been given.

The Inconvenience of Raising Children

But it’s not always idolizing our children that is the problem. Sometimes what steals our joy is some other idol of ours that our kids keep getting in the way of. It could be our career, or maybe it’s our hobbies, or maybe it’s simply our own self-focused definition of what “the good life” looks like. Whatever it is, our children become an inconvenience and something to be “dealt with” instead of people to be cherished and poured into. This also tends to steal the joy of sending them off. Instead of experiencing the joy of a completed calling we simply experience relief and the sadness that comes from wishing we had viewed their presence in our homes differently.

But the truth is that our children are a unique calling given to us by a wise and loving God. They aren’t “in the way” of our true callings, they are our callings. And while they aren’t the entirety of our callings, they are a significant portion, particularly for the season that they’re in our homes. Embracing this calling and investing purposefully and sacrificially into their lives produces both a joy along the way and a joy when the time comes for the season to change. When the season of our intensely parental callings begins to come to a close we can rejoice both in the gift of the calling we had for so many years as well as the other callings the Lord has prepared for the season ahead.

As our children grow up and they begin to be ready for the seasons ahead of them, take the opportunity to experience the joy of what God is doing in them. Whether it’s their ability to walk or their ability to drive, their one-week at a sleep-away camp or their four years at college, this was how it was designed to be. God has called you together for this season- you to be a parent and they to learn under your loving guidance. But there are more seasons ahead, more callings to be embraced, and more faithfulness to be pursued. Each season is designed to be embraced and then completed, not to be clung to or perpetuated. For in the moments of transition we can see the beauty of God’s faithfulness in and through us, and his grace and redemption for all the ways we didn’t get it quite right. And it’s in his sovereign calling and his unending grace that we can surely, regardless of the particulars of the moment, experience joy.

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