Last week I said goodbye to several teenagers I’ve watched grow up—wishing them the best as they get ready to leave for college, encouraging them to remain true to their faith and relationship with God and promising to stay in touch. As I was doing so, though, a mental picture of my daughter Emma and her pet turtle, Erin, flashed into my mind…
I don’t remember the exact circumstances of how we found Erin. What I do remember, though, is how much Emma loved her tiny little pet. And with a shell diameter of not more than three inches, she (we assumed it was a she) was the smallest turtle I’d ever seen other than the ones they sold in pet stores years ago.
Erin’s box house immediately took up residence next to Emma’s bed. She was fed vegetables, her water was kept fresh and said house was kept clean and odor-free. In other words, Emma’s skills as a turtle’s ‘mom’ were first-rate. But a little more than a year later Emma’s love for Erin took a right-turn down the road of unselfishness when she made the choice to do what was best for Erin. Emma announced it was time to let Erin go back to her natural environment. She wasn’t bored with taking care of her turtle or wanting to rid herself of the responsibility. No, with all the wisdom a little girl of seven or eight could have, she just knew it was time for Erin to live life as a turtle was meant to.
So with the help of Elizabeth and Olivia, Emma (with tears streaming down her face) carried Erin to the edge of the woods, said her good-bye’s and watched Erin take off for the great unknown. She only watched for a minute or two, however, before running back to the house crying.
When a fair amount of time had passed and Emma was still crying and wishing she had Erin back, Elizabeth and Olivia told me they were going to go find Erin. Yah, right, I thought. Like that is going to happen? But I didn’t say that. I just told them to be careful and to not get their hopes up because Erin was most likely a lot farther away than they were allowed to go. Wrong! The girls weren’t gone any time before they came running back in…carrying Erin! It turns out Erin wasn’t so crazy about being all alone in the world. That silly turtle was actually in the yard heading toward the house! I don’t need to tell you what happened next. J
One of the most bittersweet moments of being a parent is the moment in which your child leaves home for the last time as a ‘kid’; on their way to becoming an adult. We are happy, excited, thankful, proud, worried, sad, melancholy and possibly even relieved (hey, honesty is the best policy). We want them to be productive, happy and self-sufficient—that’s what we raise them to be. But take it from me—that still won’t make those tugs on your heartstrings hurt any less.
So what’s a parent to do? Let them go and wait for them to come back on their own. When you parent from the heart; loving, nurturing and teaching your children to be their best possible self, they will leave. They need to leave. But the same things that gave them the power and desire to leave will bring them back again better than ever!