Thank you to Cathy, Administrative Assistant to Shepherds College, and Lora, parent of a third-year student, for writing today's blog.
There are two camps of parents when it comes to the topic of what the American culture calls the empty nest. Like Dr. and Mrs. Huxtable on The Cosby Show of the 80’s, some parents can hardly wait! They are packing their children’s bags and pointing them to the door. Good Luck, Godspeed, get a job, and off you go! Others can hardly bear the thought of transitioning out of a life filled with the care and memories of having all their children at home.
I will admit my husband and I were in the Huxtable camp, digging suitcases out from under the beds and from the dark corners of closets, helping them pack and sending them off with all the paraphernalia we thought they would need to leave and not cleave. We did not, however, expect the empty nest years to show up quite so suddenly when all three of our children joined the military or got married all in the same summer! It was a bit of a culture shock, yet still, with barely a pause, we waved good-bye with a “hallelujah” and a high five as we looked forward to just the two of us once again. Ahhh, the blissful sounds of silence!
For parents of students with disabilities, home life often harbors a different family and parent-child dynamic. There has probably been an overwhelming attention to detail for many years which makes letting go so much harder. Hours of one-on-one training, years of doctor appointments, med changes and adjustments, and advocating in schools and with a parade of teachers over the years does not make it easy at all for parents of Shepherds College students to drop their cherished treasures off and walk away without at least a little load of worries. For some parents the process feels more like the shredding of their hearts and lives. It is not easy. One of our third year parents recently shared the path of her struggle in letting go of a child who had daily been an intricate part of her life.
"I miss my daughter with all my heart and soul. Every minute of every day I think of her and miss her. I can honestly say that I really do miss her all the time. I couldn’t believe how much I missed having her smiling face around and her companionship; her positive outlook on life. We were very much together all the time. She has always brought laughter to our house. We all love that about her, and I missed that from the very moment we dropped her off. She is always happy and brings me joy, so it was a huge absence of all of what she brought to my world and that was more difficult than I ever imagined. I am very proud of her and truly miss being with her and seeing her every day! The ‘letting go' experience was far harder than we had ever expected. Speaking for just myself and not my husband, the weeks leading up to her moving into school the first year was beyond scary. I was so worried and afraid. Our student is one of three children. She is our middle daughter. Her older sister graduated from college in 2008 and is married with children. Our youngest daughter left for her first year of college at the same time as our daughter attending Shepherds College. For me, it was letting go of two of my children and becoming an empty nester for the first time all at once.
My other two girls became independent and it was a natural transition for them to head off to college. It was difficult for me to see them off to school, and I was very sad and missed them, but I wasn’t worried about the decision of college life. It was a different situation when our daughter left for Shepherds. She had not yet become an independent adult and still required a lot of guidance. Not only was she not independent, but she was always with me. Aside from when she was at work or I was at work, she was a full part of my life and we were always together. I continued to worry about whether we had made the right decision in letting go of her and sending her to Shepherds. The first six weeks of her first year we did not visit or see her. We live in Wisconsin so we are close. I heard she was not sleeping, and she was crying and very homesick. Ugh!
On my end, the first months were beyond difficult. I was so worried. I couldn’t sleep. I felt sick to my stomach all the time. I cried all the time (and I rarely cry). I couldn’t stop worrying and wondering if we had made the right decision. I worried constantly. Did we make the right decision? Will she be okay? Is she happy? Is she getting the attention she needs? Will she lose her spirit and her fun personality with all the accountability and structure? Will she grow? Will she make friends? What will happen at the end of three years?
As time moved on, it became a bit easier and, although it never seems ‘normal’ for her to be out of the house and living at school, it has become routine. She has had struggles and triumphs. She has grown and learned so much during the first two years. We have noticed maturity in so many areas and confidence in her daily living and social skills.
Moving forward, she is now in her third year. This year has been much easier than the first two years. Although there are still pockets of sadness and worries, I have come to a place of peace with our decision. I know that we would not have been able to provide the setting that she has at Shepherds College anywhere else, and that it is a wonderful school with caring and very hard-working staff. Everyone has an interest in our daughter and wants to see her be successful. I have high hopes that her final year will be a great one and that she will graduate with a clear future of success. We will be working hard this year to put a plan in place and, although the journey has been more difficult than anything I have ever done thus far in my life, I pray for the grace to support all that Shepherds is providing for her and the faith to journey through this last year with her to a successful graduation."
If you share some of the same feelings and worries, we want to encourage the parents of Shepherds College that your student is going to be okay. They began their journey with a visit, as well as one or more overnight stays to test the waters. They have written and expressed a desire to be here in their assessments before enrolling. We are doing everything we can every day to give them the best college experience from beginning to end. They are in a safe haven here in Union Grove. Life will not be perfect, but God is watching over them. He sees them with His omnipresent eyes. He knows where they are. He knows what they are doing. He longs for them, He loves them, and He also wants only the best for them. If you are anxious, pause. Know that you simply cannot protect them all the time, not even when they are at home. Offer them the gift of space, room to grow, and time to spread their wings. Even an eaglet has to be pushed out the nest at first. Stumbles and bruises along the way are merely part of the journey of growing stronger. They will figure it out. We will help them. They will make friends and will surprisingly look forward to coming back to school after holiday breaks. Love them in letting them go. Let your mind be at peace.
Your nest is only empty for the school year. Take heart, they will be back and you will be amazed at all the new things the Shepherds College adventure will bring into their lives. Hopefully, your student’s growth will so delight you that it will make bringing them back for the second or final year easier each time. Each year leads them closer to a more independent future.
This is an amazing place, and God is in it. We are so glad your student is here!
Be still, and know that I am God. . . ~Ps. 46:10
Shepherds College - Guiding Your Transition to Appropriate Independence. Please visit us at www.shepherdscollege.edu.