QUESTION: Our son who just graduated from high school wants to go backpacking across Europe before he enters college in the spring. He’s always been a good money manager and has saved enough money from summer and after school jobs to take the trip. The trouble is, he wants to go during November and December. We’ve always had our children with us during the holidays. The thought of a holiday without him makes me very sad. I’m also concerned about his safety because his plan is to go alone. My husband thinks he should go and so does his older sister. Am I being overly protective and selfish about this?
Dear Anxious Mom,
Nothing like a mother’s love. No, in my opinion you are not being overly protective – but I also agree with his father and sister, and the young man should be allowed to go.
The first time I left home for college my mother kept talking as my ride, with me in the front seat, was ready to leave. She really didn’t want me to go and I fear I was somewhat brusque with her as I urged my friend to pull away from the curb. As we left, my mother turned back toward the house in tears, and I felt terrible. But I returned home on breaks, and it wasn’t as if I was never going to see my mother again. But she knew that this was the first time I was leaving home for good and she felt the pain of the “empty nest.” (There were three younger brothers still living at home, so the nest wasn’t really empty – but I was the first-born and my leaving was especially painful for her.)
To the mother of the son who wants to go backpacking: will you try to discourage him from going away to college, too? He’ll be back, but as a visitor. He’ll always be your son, but he’ll want to establish his own place, his own home.
Think of this: how would you feel if he never wanted to leave home? Wouldn’t you have failed him somehow as a parent if he didn’t want to try his wings?
The Lebanese Christian writer Kahlil Gibran said one time in his book, “The Prophet” that your children don’t really belong to you. They came through you, but they really belong to the universe. I understand your pain, but I think you need to let him go. The story of the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32 says nothing about the loving father trying to keep his son from leaving home.
In my opinion, and as painful as it may be for you, go and do likewise.
The Rev. Skip Lindeman
La Canada Congregational Church
Dear Anxious Mom,
Yes, a summer trip with friends sounds better than one in winter alone, if only for the weather and companionship, but your phrasing of the question makes me think you understand it’s time to let your son make his own choices. Especially since the other two adults in your family agree he should go. As your young adult children establish their lives and start families of their own it is likely holidays will have to be shared in some way. This trip is great practice for inevitable compromises coming down the road.
If you’re too sad to continue old traditions without your son, perhaps it’s time to start some new ones like spending the holidays with more distant family, in a resort or on a short cruise. Another possibility is helping out in a homeless or battered woman’s shelter, adopting a family or serving a meal. There could be some homeless young person who could use your good parenting skills.
Your concern about your son traveling alone is reasonable. I don’t think it’s asking too much to have him check in periodically, given all the technology choices for communication these days. One thing to keep in mind is that most of Europe is no more dangerous than the United States. Obviously he should thoroughly research his planned route and stay aware of local conditions.
Congratulations on raising such a capable young man. It’s not easy to find work and save money for travel in this economy, at any age.
QUESTION: My husband and I have what I consider a very good marriage. We’ve always discussed family problems and listened closely to each other’s opinion. Our latest disagreement though has resulted in a standoff.
Our youngest child just entered high school. I’ve been a stay-at-home mom, and now I want to go back to college to get a teaching credential. My husband tells me he’s concerned that this will take away from family time. I don’t intend to go full time. My plans include finishing the credential by the time our youngest graduates from high school. And I wouldn’t attend summer school, so vacation plans would continue as usual. I feel as though I’m being cooped up and not allowed my personal expression.
Is there a way I can present my plans in a way that will be acceptable to him?
Dear Adventurous Mom,
I fully agree with you that you have a right – even a need – to fully express yourself and to continue your education. Certainly no person should ever feel cooped up. At the same time, however, I can understand your husband’s position well. He fears that the sudden change in your family dynamic will negatively affect the positive atmosphere that both of you have worked so hard to achieve.
I suggest that you first let your husband know that you fully understand his concerns and then begin to address his fears. You need to reassure him that your continuing education will have no adverse effect on your family. On the contrary, your feeling of personal fulfillment is an integral part of the health of your family as a whole, and getting your teaching credential has the potential to significantly improve your family’s overall happiness. The fact that you only plan to go to college part-time (and not take summer classes) indicates that you also place a premium on your home life with the family and will take steps to ensure any disruptions are minimized.
I’m heartened to hear you portray your marriage in positive terms and to learn that you and your husband have always listened to each other carefully. It is these essential communications skills that enable a marriage to persevere and withstand any challenge. I am confident that if you employ the constructive techniques, which you have used successfully in the past, you’ll be able to resolve this issue in an amicable manner.
Rabbi Simcha Backman
Chabad Jewish Center
To the Adventurous Mom,
Congrats to you for nurturing a long and healthy marriage; for your care for your kids; and for being a Woman with a Plan. You sound pretty together, and if that is indeed the case, then framing your college plans for your husband could be a matter of first discussing with him how they fit into the values/priorities you have already established as a family: “We value education.” “We value our future security.” “We value me as a person with gifts beyond the home.” “We value service in the community and world.”
After that, you’ll have to take on his fear of change. Things will change as you engage in education and a new career, no matter how carefully you tend to the pace and balance of that change. On the time management front, you will ask the family, at least occasionally, to allow you to prioritize your classes over something you have usually done, like make dinner or attend kids’ sports activities. It is fine to ask for this after years of not asking for it, so let’s be real and know that the question will come up.
More importantly, you will change as you personally express yourself, and this is a great and beautiful thing. So tell your husband what’s in it for him: a happier partner, enhanced future security, an opportunity to make a difference in students’ lives, and whatever else you think is important to him!
All of this assumes that you are as together as you sound in your question. If there is something else going on in your life that has created a less stable situation, and your husband is asking that the family tend to that before adding a new element of instability, I suggest with my limited information that you receive that as wisdom, and pursue the resources necessary to stabilize your family.
Romans 8:28: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
Pastor Paige Eaves
Crescenta Valley United Methodist Church