I love back-to-school season. The thrill of buying new pens, fresh books ready to be cracked open, and possibility hanging in the air. I’m a nerd, and I’ll own it. Give me a gift card to Staples, and I’m a happy woman.
However, since becoming a mom of school-age kids, the season has turned bittersweet.
That first day at school drop-off always hits me hard. As I watch my babies walk away, I get that lump in my throat as all the feelings rush in: “Will they find their classrooms? Does he remember his multiplication tables? Will he have a friend to sit with at lunch? Please, God, let him go another year without noticing girls…”
While summer can be exhausting and I’m ready for the change of pace, this mama bird struggles to let go. Summertime allows me to keep my four boys tucked up pretty tight under my wing. I hear their conversations. I know what they watch and how they spend their time.
But during the school year, they spend 7 hours a day that go largely unaccounted for. My first instinct is to push and pry, to ask 1,539 questions the minute they walk through the door. But no matter how many questions I ask or responses I get, their school life comes to me only in bits and pieces.
The back-to-school season puts me face to face with the reality that my kids can’t stay nestled nearby. Babies were born to the leave the nest. I get to care for them and love them and nuzzle them while they’re young. But in the grand scope of life, our nest is just the jumping off point.
In my work with college students, I’ve seen what happens when mama bird hovers. They produce pseudo-adults who can’t do their own laundry, manage money, or even know who they are apart from their parents. Often, they don’t make it through their first year out. I don’t want that for my kids. I want them to be strong, capable, confident, God-seeking young men.
But independent adults don’t just happen.
Beginning with that first day of kindergarten, I must encourage my kids toward independence from me and dependence on God. When I want to swoop in, to email the teacher asking for hourly updates or tell that kid on the playground what’s up, I must resist. I must see past my son’s five-year-old self and release him into the man he will become.
What that first day of school does for me is set things right. It reminds me that their lives—now and in the future—are not mine. Armed with superhero backpacks and pencils and a God who is there when I’m not, they are ready. While I will most certainly head to the nearest Starbucks to drown my sorrows in dirty chai lattes, I don’t chase after them. I let them walk away, laughing with classmates and walking through those double doors without looking back.