Secrets Mothers Keep: On Roots & Wings

empty nest

I originally published this last year as my first child prepared to go off to college. Apparently it struck a chord with many momma’s of the “cap-and-gown set” as it was my most shared and commented post. So I offer it again for the Class of 2016’s mothers:

When I was pregnant I remember being astounded by the secrets the women in my life had kept from me. It’s a wisdom of the ages that lets us sense what a sister doesn’t need to know…until she needs to know.

Roots and Wings

This week, I experienced this phenomenon again. As I prepared to take my first child to college, I grasped with new clarity why the “one word” God gave me for the year was brokenhearted. I texted my mom about the mix of emotions forming on my horizon. My mother replied,

“Had the same feelings about all of you. But this is life’s plan, not an easy one. Not something you want to tell your children. You learn as you experience. Pray every day for strength. Wonder why I go to church? If I can do it you can.”

She knew about this and didn’t warn me? Another holdout! Then I began to look around; after all, I had watched plenty of my friends release their children from the nest. I imagined that it was hard, but I had no idea how hard. And in that moment I realized that the women who knew, who could have warned me, weren’t talking. (I say this with a smile.)

As the days dwindled into hours more and more girlfriends came out of the closet, sharing their experiences. Several really strong women I know admitted they had taken to bed for the first few days and grieved it out. Others talked about sitting in their children’s bedrooms mourning the emptiness.

But then, the old cleanup lady Time shows up. She’s slow and not very efficient; she always leaves something behind. But, she works her way through that mess of Grief one sweep of the hand at a time. I look at those same girlfriends and see that they have accepted new normals in which their children will never all live under the same roof again and where when “Mom” is yelled in public it’s less likely it is for them. 

Another unique theme for this life milestone is the shared heartbeat between children and their mothers. My mom characterized it this way in her text: “When u hurt, I hurt.” My girlfriend says of her freshman, “When I know she is happy I will be.”

And therein lies the divine mystery of motherhood; it is the good Lord offering us the tiniest of glimpses into what it is like to live and love with complete “other-centeredness.” Just as He is for us in all things we are for our children…always. Their joy multiplies our joy; their pain breaks our hearts because we would gladly spare them, substitute ourselves for them. While we almost never can, He did.

For the love of our children, as my mother so wisely said, we pray for strength that we may not burden them with our pain, but instead lift their joy on the wings of ours so they can fly higher, freely and often farther, than they otherwise could (or we wish they would). 

Mother and son

This transition to college is an unusual one because it is such a mixed bag of emotions that usually are not experienced together:

  • Joy for my child’s accomplishment and the good things in store as he embraces this new adventure
  • Grief because the family we have spent 20 years building is now dis-integrating, albeit in the healthiest of ways
  • Regret because I really do wish I would have played dinosaurs longer instead of doing those dishes; I wish I could have responded with grace instead of fatigue and anger so many times when he was young; and I wish I would have lived every moment like these recent ones, hanging on each as precious and fleeting.
  • Fear for my child so far from home, and fear for myself about what I will become when “Mom” isn’t my first calling any longer
  • Anxiety about my child in the big bad world, about him being lonely or stressed or sick without my being able to comfort him
  • Anticipation of pouring everything I have into my three other kids’ needs; anticipation for my son and the amazing things I see blossoming in him at this very moment

Today we’re stand on this edge of this new reality — at the boarding gate literally and figuratively. On Tuesday I leave him…and life will never be the same. Even if my sisters didn’t warn me, I draw strength from their examples. My mother-in-law, who treasured motherhood in the same way I do, told me once, “There is life after children and it is good.”

I’m counting on it.

What God Has to Say:

  • I have loved you with an everlasting love. Jeremiah 31:3
  • It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Galatians 5:1
  • Everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. John 15:15-17
  • Therefore go and make disciples of all nations…surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. Matthew 28:16-20
  • I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. John 16:12

And finally, as Jesus prayed for his disciples and for us now in John 17: 6-11, may we as mothers be able to offer this same prayer as we release our children:

I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them….Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. 

Please feel free to share your experiences, wisdom or learnings about your children leaving the nest. 

Read more: Jane Brock offers a corollary post on this topic called “The Velveteen Rabbit.” I encourage you to check it out.

8 thoughts on “Secrets Mothers Keep: On Roots & Wings

  1. Nanette,

    I have kept this post in a special place “for such a time as this”. Also, I sent this to a couple of friends, when you first wrote it because they were in this same place of sending their children off to college. In two weeks time, we will have seen our son graduate from college, Hunter graduate from preschool (this evening), and Abigail will graduate on June 2. Wow, I am thinking, “what was I thinking”. As if one would have known or somehow done things differently had she (I) known. It is a bittersweet time, and it was good to go back and read this today. Yesterday, I spent most of my day crying (off and on) and I found myself greatly encouraged by what you shared in this post. Thanks for the reminder, thanks for taking the time to share your heart the way you do, God is using you in a mighty way to help your sisters. May God bless you greatly as you continue to pursue Him!!


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Aww Cindy thank you for sharing your heart. My second so , Trevor, will graduate high school this Sunday so I am experiencing this slow bittersweet grief anew. No greater love is there than to lay down one’s life, joy, one’s self, for another. I think God created parenting so that we could experience in some measure His love for us, the sweetness, the beauty, and yes, the pain.


    1. Emilee, you are fortunate to realize the fleeting nature of this season so early. The only response is to savor as much of it as possible. I feel blessed now that I have few regrets. Thank you for your comment. Carpe Diem!


  2. I may have had an easier time dropping my son off at college last year as he had been spending almost half of his time out of “my” home with his father. I was, in a way, used to him not being under the same roof. I tried to focus on the opportunity he would have to “be his own man.”

    My heartbreak came later when he finally told me that he hated his situation. I wanted him to love college as I did. I wanted him to make wonderful friends that he might not speak with for years, but would be able to call (or message on Facebook, wink) later in life and still feel connected to.

    While I suffered with that heartache, a very wise priest taught me a lesson. Our primary relationship when married is the one with our spouse. “For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” Eph 5:31.

    Though I still feel badly that his college experience will not be like mine, I take comfort that he will be fine, as will I, because, “When the just cry out, the LORD hears them, and from all their distress he rescues them. The LORD is close to the brokenhearted; and those who are crushed in spirit he saves. Ps. 34:18-19

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Ahhh…Nanette. Your post was so touching and I share some of these feelings from a somewhat different stage. I took our youngest to kindergarten this year and I am still struggling to let go, because it marks the end of a stage which brings us one stage closer to the one you face now. 🙂 How ironic too, since I looked forward for so long to the day of “quiet” at home without all the noise and mess and diapers and….. While I cannot identify completely with the changes you are facing this week, I do know that the same truths that hold me now will hold me then and these you have articulated so beautifully. God is our present, right now help and promises His presence to those who trust in Him. He promises peace to those whose minds are on focused on Christ and His Work and His grace. He is our strength. We can let go, because we trust Him with those sweet blessings He gave us to grow. Praying for you my friend from across these miles. Thank you for sharing your heart with us who walk behind you.

    Liked by 1 person

Join the conversation. It isn't wisdom until it's shared.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s