When we moved Harrison into the dorm back in August, I had plenty of anxiety and sadness about this new stage in our lives. There was also a lot of pride and excitement – not just for him, but for Brian and me too. This sort of, dang, we made it, and he’s happy and successful and has a bright future ahead of him, thing. 

If you have more than one child, you know the pressure that comes with that first one. Like it or not, the oldest is the guinea pig, and it’s not fair. We made so many mistakes. We apologized a lot. We also laughed a lot. We were pretty young when we became parents (24), so it’s easy to blame our age, but honestly, I’m not sure it would have been any different if we had waited a few more years.

No matter what, on that cold January day in 2001, they were going to make us take him home from the hospital, even though we actually pleaded for a little more time there where it felt safe. They scooted us out with the assurance that he was fine and we were ready.

It was the most wonderful and scariest experience of our life together. I’ll never forget how slowly Brian drove us home, and then standing in our kitchen, looking at Harrison in his baby carrier, then looking at each other with these expressions that screamed, we have no idea what we are doing. 

And we were right, but day by day, we figured it out. It took a lot of prayer, calls to our parents and grandparents, and questions to friends and mentors who were already parents. Little by little, we began to see that God really does give us everything we need for life and godliness, and since for us that “life” meant having the incredible gift of being parents, we were equipped for it. Not only does He give us a ton of grace, but our kids do too. In so many ways, the three of us grew up together in those first 3 years, and they will always be some of my favorites. 

His divine power has given us everything required for life and godliness through the knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness. 2 Peter 1:3

As it goes with life, we blinked, and then there we were, on the 4th floor of an old, somewhat decrepit dormitory. I kept myself busy making Harrison’s bed and doing whatever else I could to make it feel like home for him, trying to keep my mind off what was actually happening. My main thoughts went back and forth between “he’s ready” and “there’s no way I can leave him here.”

Much like that January day when we brought him home from the hospital, there we were again, staring at him and each other, silently panicking because we had no idea what we were doing. Only this time, we were leaving him there, and driving back home to Tennessee to start our new normal without him being home with us.  

Parenting is a balance between holding on and letting go.

I’ll be honest with you – it sucked. Leaving him behind felt so foreign, and it broke my heart, even though he is where he is supposed to be for this stage of his life, and we are exactly where we are supposed to be. Thankfully, just like it happened over 18 years ago, we started to figure it out. All five of us. The dynamics of our home changed. Relationships shifted a little. Hud and Hunter dealt with their biggest brother being away by bonding to each other even more. Brian and I saw that once again, God was giving us everything we needed for life and godliness, and this stage of life was part of that promise too. This was part of His great plan – we are supposed to raise these boys to grow up and fly on their own. 

I have to include here that the way I handled this first semester is evidence of God’s great grace. It was somewhat remarkable {and only because of Him} – slowly letting go so Harry could do his thing. Very little nagging. Lots of listening. A whole bunch of trust and faith – trust that God had him and that he was ready for this and faith that it was all going to be okay.  

But here’s the thing – you never stop being a mom. The question here though is how do you be mom to your adult children? This stage is a little weird… technically he is a legal adult. But he’s also still a teenager, and there are plenty of studies out there proving that their brains and bodies aren’t completely developed yet. They still need guidance. 

They still very much need their parents.

All through that first semester, there were a couple of quick visits, but I highly anticipated him coming home for Christmas break – a whole month of the 5 of us being together! It was as glorious and wonderful as I had hoped. We were so happy to be together and made the most of all of it. But before we knew it, and no matter how hard I tried to drag it out, the decorations were put away and we were getting ready to go back to school and work and start the second semester. I completely dreaded it. I just wanted to freeze time, for us to just be home every day together… which was completely impossible and unreasonable, but true nonetheless. 

I cried so much those last few days. The smallest, seemingly silly things brought the biggest tears – juice boxes, dirty laundry, and sunflower seeds, to name a few – it made no sense, so I won’t even try to explain the significance of those three things. If you’ve had to do it, I know you get it. The little things we once took for granted, or were even annoyed by, become the things we miss the most. 

All I knew was that letting him go back for the second semester was even harder than the first, and that completely blindsided me. This was supposed to get easier, right? 

But it wasn’t. Not at all.

I was talking to Brian about it one night, trying to make sense of why the tears wouldn’t stop. He pointed out something I hadn’t really thought about. Harrison has always been an old soul, and really mature, but still every bit of a teenage boy. Ages 16-18 were tough at times, for all three of us. When we left him at school last August he was still that teenager who thought he knew everything (like nearly all the teenagers I’ve ever met do). In December, he came home a more mature, seemingly full-grown man who had learned lots of things over the past few months, with one of those being that he really didn’t know everything.

He made it clear that he still needed us and was so happy to be home. He asked for advice. When something went wrong, we were the first people he went to, but mostly he already knew what to do and just needed a little reassurance. He stuck close to home – often choosing to spend time with us over friends who were also home from college.

It felt like some kind of reward for the years spent pouring into him, and we soaked every bit of it up.

On top of that, there was this realization that we had raised someone who we not only loved (of course), but who was turning into an adult we also liked a whole lot. 

We’ve gotten a glimpse of what it will be like having adult children, and know now that it will be just as special as the other stages have been. 

So, how do we do this parenting a college kid thing? One day at a time, that’s how. Keep praying. Be an encourager. Don’t hover. Trust that they are ready, and show them you believe it too. And remember, these days are their own kind of beautiful.