Stretching the Umbilical Cord

What changes will your family face as you head into fall? The end of maternity leave, a toddler starting preschool, a child starting all-day kindergarten? Or perhaps a tween heading to middle school, a teenager heading to high school, a young adult heading to college? Or maybe, like us, it might be the last of your children leaving home with the impending empty nest looming largely right in front of you?

When our first daughter left for college 2 years ago I began to read books on the subject as I am prone to do when I face any life change. Many of these books discussed things like “letting go” or “breaking the ties that bind.” Concepts, that frankly, made me uncomfortable and only increased the pain, anxiety – and yes grief – that I was feeling at the time.

A concept that felt much more comfortable and has worked for our family was that of stretching the umbilical cord. It made us, as parents, feel better. And verbalizing it to the one who was leaving home definitely made them feel better.

In practical ways, this meant regular communication with our college freshman. Not just texts but regular phone calls and a scheduled, once-a-week facetime as a family. It meant sending a card every Tuesday with words of encouragement and a Bible verse. It takes all of 10 minutes but makes such a difference to the one checking their mailbox each week – never underestimate the power of the written word to a loved one!

Stretching the umbilical cord also means giving them the freedom to make their own decisions – good and bad. Giving them the opportunity to fail. Swallowing the tears when they choose to spend breaks somewhere that does not include you. Biting your tongue when they make choices you do not agree with. Encouraging independence in every way - including financially. Standing firm in the choice not to call or email the school, professors or administrators. Letting your student set their own appointments, buy their own books, schedule their own classes, figure out how to get home over break (you get the idea).

There is a ceramic plaque on my kitchen counter that personifies the idea of stretching the umbilical cord to me. On the top it says FAMILY. Across the bottom are the words ROOTS*WINGS. Down one side it says A STURDY BRIDGE TO THE FUTURE. Down the opposite side it says A STRONG LINK TO THE PAST. The graphic is a tree reaching upward and its roots reaching down and twining through words like: love, home, blessing, refuge, support, hugs, mercy, guide, treasure, grace, sanctuary, mistakes, forgiveness, encourage, trust, tears, and laughter.

Thank God for the laughter. Last night I came home from work to a stressed out and frustrated daughter who is leaving for college tomorrow and needed to calm down in order to get a good night’s sleep. I suggested a walk which took us 4 blocks south to a neighborhood park where we jumped on the swings in the dark. She is 20 now, this daughter of mine, a woman in her own right who, thank you Jesus, still wants to spend time with me.  Seeking my love, my encouragement, my wisdom, my hugs and yes, shared laughter as we soared into a perfect summer night on a swing set built for 2. The umbilical cord has stretched, as it should, but it has not broken.

Precious Father – Thank you for the gift of family. Please give us, as parents, wisdom and discernment as our children take the next step whether to preschool or to college. Help us to trust you with their past, their present and their future Lord. Amen.