I remember that day clearly. It was the Fall of 1999, and my husband and I were driving our oldest son off to college. We dropped him off at the dorm and helped him get unpacked. We said our goodbyes and drove off. Suddenly, my husband pulled over to the shoulder of the road and stopped the car. I asked him why we were stopping and he started crying! “Why are you crying?” I asked. He replied, “Because I feel like we are leaving him for the wolves to devour!”
Well, our son didn’t get eaten by wolves, but we were worried about how he would behave away from home. Would he remember to go to Mass, would he pray, and would he lead a Christ-centered life? What would happen to him? I remember my mother quoting from the Proverbs when I fussed about our son to her: “Train up a child in the way he should go. Even when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6). This has helped me more times than I ever thought with our oldest and then the next two children. How do we help our children as they leave the nest?
First, we must set a daily example for our children from the very beginning. We can’t cram everything we want them to know into the last few weeks that they are living at home.
Second, we must pray – both as a family and privately. It is important to show your children that prayer is a vital and visible part of your life.
Third, read from the Scriptures. I keep our family Bible in a prominent place in the living room. It has all the information about our family, who received sacraments and when, as well as our family history. Each of us has our own personal Bibles, but I would often catch the kids looking in the family Bible when they were little because they liked to look at the pictures and all of the information that was there about the family.
Finally, make it a priority to go to church as a family. Even though my children are grown, have moved away from home, and attend Mass regularly on their own, they still return at least once a month to gather as a family at our home parish for Mass.
The last thing I would recommend is a book that I have found invaluable. The book is titled Give Them Wings by Carol Kuykendall. It is all about children leaving home (and sometimes coming back and then leaving again) and how we can prepare our children to be caring, compassionate Christians in today’s secular world. Kuykendall gives many helpful hints on how to help your children maintain their roots and still give them wings to soar.
(Kathleen Dautremont, Theology Teacher, Dowling Catholic High School)