She decided it was time to leave. Her destination—North Carolina. With her, she took her two very young children in search of a better life and her place in this world. Behind her, she left a loving and supporting family, a lifelong thread of friends and a father who could not bear a 2,500-mile wide hole in his heart.
I tried my best to find a logical reason for my daughter to stay. She had made her decisions for all of the right reasons. As a single mother of a four and seven year old, she found it too difficult to survive financially. She had a great job waiting for her and the ability to continue her education. Stemming from love, all my objections were emotional and selfish. In the end the only rational thing to do was to support her. We packed two cars with the bare necessities, and with two of her best friends. Traveling the southern route, we shared the beauty of the Painted Desert, the radiance of a New Mexico sunrise, hundreds of miles of nakedness through Texas, the lush, thick swamps of Louisiana and the magnificence of the mighty Mississippi River. Reaching the rolling green hills of Alabama, we gathered with family unseen for years, some of which my daughter and grandsons had never met. Even in bottomless despair, through the fresh eyes of my children, I found joy and built a lifetime of memories sharing the beauty of our country. On the road we spoke of dreams, fears and realities that bonded us closer together.
The recesses of my heart continuously reminded me that eventually I would be leaving them there alone. Only a parent can understand the profound anguish of setting their children free. There is never a time I do not see the helpless child that changed my life forever. It is a privilege in life to know such unconditional love and devotion. At the same time, I see a beautiful young, vibrant, independent woman who has her life before her and the courage to live it to the fullest. After all is said and done, isn’t this what I have worked so hard to help her achieve?
Now, back at home, I am seeing many of my younger peers trying to find their place in life. Many of them are looking at universities that take them away from their home and families. I have listened as many students tell me of the battles they face in getting their parents to understand their dreams, their future and their goals. They also tell me of their parent’s inability and refusal to let them venture away from the sanctuary of home. These students are goal-oriented and eager to pursue their path, risking getting lost on their way and the sanctuary of the family that has loved and raised them.
It is understandable as a parent footing the bill who just cannot afford the cost of long-distance education. But it is wrong to hold them back due to the insecurities of your own heart. They are at the beginning of the greatest adventure they will ever have. Their dreams and goals might not be the same as our vision for them, but they are their dreams, their goals. They are motivated, strong and yearning to learn what life has in hold for them.
Listen carefully to the dreams of your children. Learn to love the strong young adult that stands before you now and embrace the memory of that little helpless child. Trust in the foundation you helped build in them.
I left three precious pieces of my soul in North Carolina. My daughter and my grand babies are now out of reach. A day still does not go by without a tear of fear or sadness running down my cheek. But deeper than that is an unselfish love, pride and joy in seeing her take hold of her destiny, wherever it might lead her.
A broken heart can mend. But squelching the dreams of your children will haunt you for the rest of your life and possibly fester into wounds that never heal. Ridding ourselves of insecurities and selfish love is the most difficult thing for a parent to do, yet the underpinning is there, even with change. Learn to trust it. Learn to let go.