Friends with older teens warned us. Guidance counselors tried to prepare us. But it wasn't until our firstborn reached his senior year that the truth sank in: College was looming, and my husband and I needed to get things in gear.
Our son tackled the tedious job of filling out endless college applications online. Hovering over his shoulder, I offered sage advice"Honey, don't say that!"and helped him remember all his extracurricular activities, including one semester in the Crochet Club (all the junior boys signed up).
It was harder to keep my hands off his essaynot so much because I'm a writer, but because I'm a mother. And a perfectionist. Guilt nagged at me as I scrawled comments in the margin, suggesting better phrasing and stronger word choices. Would a 17-year-old really use those words? Was I helping too much?
Scanning the annual college survey in our dog-eared copy of U.S. News & World Report, my heart stopped when I read the section addressed to parents: "Part of the reason the essay is becoming less important in the decision-making process is because the 'proofreading' is getting better."
Uh-oh. Was I proofreading or uh, rewriting? After years of insisting our children do their own homework, my resolve was waning. Our son's future was at stake. Couldn't I help a little?
My angst increased as we visited college campuses. Impressive architecture gave way to grim facts about the school's acceptance policies. SAT and ACT and GPA were suddenly more than letters, they were numbersnumbers that measured our son's worth.
Listening to the statistics, I squirmed in my seat. His numbers were good, but were they good enough? Should we have pushed him harder in school? Emphasized grades more? We'd focused on helping our son become a good person. Didn't colleges have a line for that on one of their many forms?
Character of Applicant: Honest and fair. Loves God. Plays well with others.
Staring at the PowerPoint presentation outlining all the requirements for admission, I realized our son wasn't the only one being evaluated; so were we. Had we done all we could? If our favorite college didn't accept him, how would we handle his disappointment and ours? If they all said yes, could we let him choose?
As we headed for the car, dazed by the bright afternoon sun and the challenges before us, another line from the U.S. News article jabbed at my conscience: "No offense, parents, but this is not about you."
True, we had a big financial investment ahead. But our son would be investing four years of his life. Should we allow him to sink or swim on his own merits? Was it time to let him decide his future?
I e-mailed several godly friends, certain they would say, "No way! You're paying his tuition. You get to pick."
But that's not what these older, wiser women told me. "Your job is to stand back and be supportive." Oh, dear. "As long as it's your money, you do have something to say about itand he has lots to say about it, too." He does? "This is another one of those wonderful opportunities to work together!" Gulp.
One comment nailed me to the wall: "I'm praying he'll make a wise decision."
Notice she said henot we.
When acceptance letters began appearing in our mailbox, I realized what I needed to do: stop pushing our son and start praying for him. For godly discernment on his part. For patience on our part. And for the Lord to guide him every step of the way.
Veteran parents talk about the slow but sure process of letting go.
We're finally there, Lord. And we're willing to let go of our precious son, but only because we know he's in very good hands: yours.
Liz Curtis Higgs is the author of 22 books, including her latest historical novel, Whence Came a Prince (WaterBrook Press). She lives with her husband and their two teenagers in Kentucky.
Copyright © 2005 by the author or Christianity Today/Today's Christian Woman magazine.
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