Over the past few years, I have written about the joys of back to school in this column. This year, I would like to again reflect on what back to school means, but from the very personal perspective of a parent.
Last week, I dropped off my oldest daughter at college. Perhaps you would assume this transition was easy for a college president. After all, I know – personally and professionally — that college is the best next step in my daughter’s life. But still — like parents across the nation, including the 523 families who have entrusted their first year students to the College of St. Benedict — I am having to let go of someone.
It occurred to me in the weeks before dropoff that the 18 years we had together went far too quickly. While I often promised I would do something with her tomorrow or next week, next month or next year, things I sometimes never did, my time is now up as the parent of a young child.
My job now, as the parent of a young adult, is not to dwell on her basic physical needs and shelter her from the world’s emotional harm. Rather, my job is to give her the gift of letting go. I must demonstrate for her how to let go with confidence; let go with grace; and let go with faith.
As with so many acts of parenting, I feel ill equipped and unprepared for this new role, and I know that other parents, too, are wrestling with letting go at this time of year whether their child is going to college or kindergarten.
How do we let go knowing we maintain incredible resonance and value in our children’s lives? How do we let go when the world lacks compassion for our fellow humans? How do we show our children letting go of what has been often means receiving something even better?
This is a lesson emphasized with the sending off to college, but a lesson we all must learn in this world: letting go in order to receive.
The grace of letting go demands a refocusing on what matters: letting go of old beliefs to receive new energy and opportunities, letting go of old habits to secure a new, more peaceful way of being in the world. Letting go of hatred to welcome peace.
How do you use your voice with equal parts power and compassion, courage and grace? How do you live your life in ways that reflect your gratitude for all you have and your work toward justice for those who lack? How do you reassure yourself that you are more than enough, no matter what the world says?
These are among the big questions and ideas about life that we must help our children answer.
We need to hold our adult childrens’ hands, not to keep them safe from the world’s harms, but to ensure they never feel they have to face those harms alone. In these ways, the guidance of our children remains as important as ever.
As I think about the grace of letting go, about the parenting lesson I am teaching my daughter right now, I recall a beautiful song that the Benedictine Sisters sing on the day of a sister’s funeral, “Life is changed, not ended, for those who live by faith.”
Life does, indeed, change when we send our children out into the world. But a new world of relationships open to us; a bright world that we must embrace and prepare to receive as joy.
This back-to-school season I wish you well on your own journey of seeking, finding and sharing the grace of letting go.
This is the opinion of College of St. Benedict President Mary Dana Hinton. To A Higher Degree is published the fourth Sunday of the month and rotates among the presidents of the four largest Central Minnesota higher education institutions.
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