by Annette Bridges. © 2007. All rights reserved.
My world was about to change. It was September 2001, and my only child was heading off to college. I had been anticipating and dreading the day.
You have to understand, Jennifer is not only my daughter. She is also my shopping companion, my movie buddy, my confidant. She is my best friend. When Jennifer was born, I stopped teaching school to be an at-home mom. When she started school, I went back to teaching at her elementary school. In fact, I was her kindergarten teacher.
In Jennifer’s fifth-grade year, we started home schooling and continued through high school. It was a good fit for our cattle-ranching lifestyle. And she and I loved learning together. Besides, it left us plenty of time to travel as a family, something I couldn’t even imagine doing without our daughter. Even when she went to summer camp, I went with her and volunteered.
But the day had come for her to begin her own life journey away at college. It was inevitable, and I had to face it. The time had finally arrived for me to let her go — without going with her. And it was time for me to move on to the next chapter in my own life — life without a child at home. This change may have been my greatest unspoken fear.
How can I describe those first days and weeks without her at home? Sleepless. Anxious. Worried. Fearful. Uneasy. Almost unbearable.
There wasn’t anything anyone said to me that helped. Yes, I knew what was right and normal for my child. I knew she couldn’t live at home forever. I didn’t want that for her. And yes, I knew it was normal to miss her. I admit I talked with her every day on the telephone. But nothing could stop how frantic I was. My imagination worked overtime, especially at night when I tried to sleep. The anxiety I was feeling from being separated from her was creating a picture of a vulnerable young girl who was susceptible to chance, accident or even violence.
In the meantime, Jennifer was adjusting very well to college. She enjoyed her classes and made good grades. She was used to managing her time and studying on her own. She had a boyfriend we liked. And she was active in a student organization. In fact, it was her activity in this organization that brought my anxieties and fears to a head. She was going to fly on a commercial airliner to Washington DC, and it was only 6 months after 9/11.
I had begun praying and searching for peace of mind before her travel news. My search for peace required moment-to-moment, thought-by-thought prayer. Psalm 91 became my daily prayer and brought me reassurance, comfort and confidence.
It also helped me to think of God as both Father and Mother. The perfect 24/7 Parent, never off-duty — for both me and for Jennifer. I realized that everyone has a unique relationship with God, and their own purpose to fulfill. And I wasn’t responsible for maintaining this link for my daughter.
The idea that both Jennifer and I are on life journeys and that God has a purpose for us throughout our lives proved key to gaining peace of mind. When I finally accepted, believed and trusted this idea with all my heart, I became committed to not allowing any thought, fear or opinion interfere with God’s purpose for both of us.
The fruits of my prayer were life changing.
Yes, Jennifer had a safe and fun trip to Washington DC. Her college years were joyous and productive. She completed her Bachelor of Arts degree in three years. The boyfriend became our son-in-law, whom we love very much. She and I still talk every day, and I look forward to hearing what’s new and wonderful on her life journey.
And what about me? I can honestly say that fear and anxiety no longer rule my days and nights. My husband and I have great fun with evenings and weekends that are “just us.” We’ve enjoyed trips alone and have had wonderful excursions with friends. And we’ve had opportunities for travels that have included our daughter and son-in-law. I have started a new career. My husband and I have remodeled our house. And we’ve added a new member to our family — a miniature dachshund.
Not long ago I had a conversation with Jennifer reflecting on her college years. In telling her about my experience in those first few months, I was delighted to learn she never suspected my struggle. She told me, “I never felt guilty going away to college. I never felt you were scared for me. I never felt susceptible to risk or dangers. I never had any situations that made me afraid. I always felt safe.”
Yes, my world did change. But I’ve learned I don’t have to be afraid of change. Change is progress. Change means growth. Change provides expansive views. It’s kind of like the change from a caterpillar to a butterfly. Certainly, the life experience is different. But what a difference in the view!