By Stacey Noem
Our high school senior is in the middle of college applications. The first is due in a few days and he needs to write the primary essay.
Now I remember clearly the stress of writing my college application essays. I thought I would never get through it at the time. Then when I did get through it, and when I actually got accepted to college, I, frankly, was thrilled that I would never have to go through that particular rite of passage again.
Wrong. As parents we get to go through every rite of passage all over again – even multiple times again – with each successive child.
But it is different to go through it on the parental side of the equation. Specifically, it is a difference in agency. I can only DO so much, and I can NOT do it FOR my son. For it to even be a rite of passage he has to do this for himself. I cannot attempt to assert some kind of control over this situation.
And that leads to one important layer of personal reflection: it can be maddening to create space, and encourage attention to timelines, and then just stand by and watch as he makes different choices in how to use his time. Choices that from my perspective are somewhat squandering that time.
Which leads to a deeper layer of personal reflection: I hold the firm conviction that this is his to do and yet I would be fooling myself to say that I am not deeply, unavoidably, and inextricably connected to the process and the outcome. For example, I had one of those truly unbelievably full weeks of work that included hosting a bishop in my classroom, a comically high number of intense task force meetings, and organizing two masses in addition to regular work responsibilities. But all week, I would say that my number one stressor in any given moment was thinking about how much Oscar had done on his college essay. It was that constant pit in my stomach or ache in the back of my mind. All. Week. Long.
What is this lot in life as a parent?! It often feels like an out of control, fairly painful, definitively frustrating roller-coaster ride of a life. Yet, even as I recognize and name how hard it is, I also recognize it is a deep participation in the nature of love.
I love Oscar so much that I want to make his life as easy and pleasurable and beautiful as possible; and I love him so much that I somehow find the strength to sit on my hands and hold my tongue and let him make his own choices. Because it is his life. It is his journey. I cannot walk it for him. That would be depriving him of what it is to actually live life.
And this is how, yet again, we as parents get to participate and grow in the very nature of the love God extends to each of us, God’s beloved children. I get to experience firsthand what it means to love and desire nothing but the good for my child and at the same time stand back and allow that child to exercise their own free will. In an ironic twist – or perhaps providential design – my very struggle to balance investment and detachment is yet another step on my own journey of holiness.