When God decided I would one day be a mother, I believe he gave me an extra dose of controlling overprotectiveness. At least, that’s how I like to spin it.
So imagine my surprise when I found myself attempting to navigate the demise of my marriage while learning how to raise two middle-schoolers on my own, how against my nature it was to basically be dragging them through harsh waters for what would end up being a couple years.
I simultaneously felt like I had let them down across the board and there would be no recovering from it, all the while promising that I would be there for them every step of the way (even if they didn’t want or need me to “be there”) to bridge the gap of a missing parent and attempt to help them cross over into our dented-up version of wholeness, eventually.
But then they entered high school. And peers became super important. And having fun. And the opposite sex. And driving. And college searches. And freedom.
And my tiny, little, cozy, protected bubble of a world burst wide open by two teenagers who were trying to figure out life. And I soon realized that I not only couldn’t control them and their lives anymore, I was perhaps never supposed to.
And the role of protective Mama Bear began to shift. And I look at my children now and I see two people who are taller than me, who can drive and date and fend for themselves, who are smart and funny and kind.
And I must deal with the fact that, for the most part, I am done. And my role has completely morphed into something I never saw coming: every day, a little more and more, as gently as I can, becoming more open-handed. In other words, letting them go.
My first foray into this was a big deal, for me at least. When my separation began, I had my kids every other weekend, and they were, for a time, no longer going to church when they weren’t with me. So I became insistent that on my weekends, we were going to church darnit. That was not a problem in the least, as going to church as a family was a part of our DNA. They had been going to church every Sunday since the womb.
The problem came when I decided I need to leave our home church of almost nineteen years as I just couldn’t handle the additional pain of becoming a divorcee in the place where I had lived out my entire marriage. So we started looking around. And my kids grieved this. And they didn’t like the church search. And when I landed on one that was home to me, they weren’t thrilled. It was nothing against my new church. It just wasn’t their church. So I made up a new rule. On top of the requirement of going to church on my weekends, at least one of the two weekends per month, they could go to their church but that meant on the other weekend, they had to come to church with me at my new church. It could be in addition to or in place of them going to theirs, but at least once a month, I insisted we attend church as a family. After all, that’s what you do. And, they’d be leaving the nest soon. And, I was sad and needed their company. And…
And then about three or so months in, I realized that this was controlling. And selfish. (Okay, I didn’t so much as realize this as someone outright told me it was.) My kids had not asked for a divorce. My kids loved their lifelong church. My kids did not feel the repercussions of my divorce the way I had. My kids didn’t want to leave their church. So I opened up my clenched fists. And I told them they no longer had to go with me to church once a month. And they were grateful. I was sad, but I knew it was the right decision.
My kids love church. My kids willingly go every week they’re home. To their own church. That in and of itself is an amazing gift and an act of grace and a small testament to me doing at least something right along the way to instill that into them as a priority.
And I know, as we get closer and closer to high school graduation for both of them, that that small act of open-handedness was the first of many, many more chances for me to release them to the world, to life, back to God. Every day is one more big letting go. And they’re going to be just fine.
Elisabeth Klein is the author of Unraveling: Hanging Onto Faith Through the End of a Christian Marriage, speaker and a member of Redbud Writers’ Guild. She led a women’s ministry in her church for ten years. She currently leads small groups, writes, and speaks to women surrounding faith, difficult marriage, domestic abuse, divorce and single parenting issues. She lives with her two teenage children in Illinois. Visit her online at http://www.elisabethklein.com.
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