Parent Devotion: Parenthood is Never Over…No Matter How Old We Get
Ever since I left for college, I’ve always lived more than 1,000 miles away from home.
Starting when I was a freshman, my mom and dad created a tradition of visiting every year mid-fall for a weekend and taking me and all of my college friends out for fancy meals.
My parents have kept up their annual fall visits to see me and my family, and in their retirement they’ve extended their time by renting a nearby cabin in the mountains of Colorado for a month. They enjoy hiking during the week and pop in for a visit on the weekends when we’re not busy. It’s the low-key, casual way we’ve been visiting together for years.
When my son, Nate, chose to attend college in Montana, my parents were thrilled to add a trip to Bozeman on their western states fall hiking tour. They hoped to tag along on a parents’ weekend with me this fall to visit him. We’d planned for a mid-October trip, but my schedule got crazy-busy, and Nate seemed quite fine with the reality that a visit wasn’t going to pan out.
Despite his obvious contentment to be left alone, I missed my son terribly and I felt so guilty for not making a parental appearance first semester. I wondered if his detached attitude meant that I SHOULD make visiting more of a priority, and if I was internalizing his detachment as rejection and therefore subconsciously avoiding a visit.
I thought back to times in college when my mom and dad had visited me. I loved seeing them, introducing them to my friends, and especially eating nice restaurant food. But despite my appreciation and enjoyment of the time with my parents, I was never devastated about saying goodbye when they left. I loved them very much, but I also loved my independence and the fact that my mom had often reminded me, “I’ve raised you to survive in a world without me.”
My mom’s survival mantra and her steady nudging of me to lean on God instead of herself is something I've always derived strength and confidence from. With that in mind, I decided my “non-visit” strategy was the best thing for my son, even though my parents announced they were still heading up to see him for a college visit no matter what anyone thought.
A weekend with the grandparents
It was perfect! I was relieved that the grandparents could be my “mole” and sniff out how Nate was doing and give me the scoop on his whole college scene. They would be spending three days there, which gave them plenty of time to explore the area and get a sense of things. I called them on the drive up to review the plan of everything I needed them to report back to me.
During their visit in Montana, I proceeded to call my parents several times every day to get an update. Sometimes they were too busy to answer the phone, responding with a brief text to let me know everything was fine. I persisted with the phone calls until they responded with a return phone call because I wanted more than a quick text of assurance. I felt desperately disconnected from my son and I needed to know all of the details about how he was doing.
On the final night of their visit in Montana, my mom answered the phone and said, “You’ve called me more in the last three days than you have in the last five years...but I like it!”
...And a revelation about motherhood
There was something in her voice that caught my attention. It was a yearning that my heart keenly picked up on since I was also in the same place of longing to hear from my own child.
Once again I thought back to my own college days. We didn’t have cell phones then, and long distance calls were expensive, so we didn’t talk often. Our communication was primarily via mail (real mail), which meant my mom frequently sent me letters and care packages and I occasionally remembered to thank her.
After sophomore year when I stopped coming home for college breaks and rebelliously headed out to Colorado to be with a cowboy I’d gotten engaged to, the mail stopped and our communication dwindled to a rare phone call every few months. And for the past two decades this has been the norm of our verbal communication.
Fortunately my parents have adapted to texting, which has increased our connection to much more frequently—but we don’t really talk much. As they’ve aged, I’ve subtly sensed their need for more consistent phone conversations, but since they’re healthy and vibrant, I’ve not really paid much attention to their hints.
The next day as my parents made the drive home from Montana, I received this text from my mom:
I have some good news and bad news. The good news is that Nate is adjusting to college and seems to be doing very well. He is studying hard, making friends, exercising, and is involved in extracurricular activities, including spiritual ones. You have done a good job of raising him. He is a responsible, fine young man.
The bad news is that because of his solid background and such a good fit at this wonderful school, he is not constantly thinking of you and home. He doesn’t have the need to talk to his mom all the time or get her constant hugs and love. He is not longing to hear your voice. He probably won’t call you often. But that isn’t because he doesn’t care or love you, but because he has a solid foundation to take off from. Knowing you and God are there for him allows him to move into adulthood as a strong, godly young man.
If you ever get lonely, please call your mommy. Don't forget that she still misses you too.
When I got her text I wept.
I wept the tears of a fellow parent who understands the primal longing for more connection to a child.
I wept in the recognition of how a mother will always miss her baby—despite independence and distance and the years in between.
I wept because I saw how a parent was able to fulfill her role and take care of the needs of their child long after they’d grown up and in ways I’d never imagined would still matter so much.
I wept because I witnessed the powerful of a legacy of independence, strength, and trust in God that a mother can pass along through generations.
I wept because of the sheer irony of it all, the continuous circle of life, love, and the painful release of a grip I realized will never fully end.
I wept because this was all beautiful and true and holy beyond words.
And I wept because this was my mother…and I didn’t realize how much she still missed me. And I didn’t realize how much I still needed to hear it.
We raise our children to have wings, and to thrive on their own as independent, responsible, healthy adults. And there is a deep sense of pride in knowing we’ve done our job well.
But no matter how old they get, we’ll never stop missing our kids.
And they’ll never stop needing to be reminded of how deeply they are loved.
Love is a funny thing. Unlike other human emotions, true love doesn’t fade with time or distance. We can even love people long after they're gone from this earth. But when our loved ones are not in our daily life, we miss them and it hurts. Our heart longs for them and the container of a relationship in which we are able to give and receive it.
In other types of relationships, the lack of daily connection can lead to doubt and confusion about love. But the love between a parent and a child transcends the time/space continuum. It’s the closest we’ll ever get to experiencing unconditional love on this side of heaven—and it’s the closest thing we can get to understanding God’s love for us.
Read and reflect on Romans 8:38-39
When we read God’s word and reflect on his love for us, it comforts us to be reminded of his immense love for us. Even though we know he loves us, we sometimes wander away from this truth and begin to wonder if he's still here—if he still loves us as fully.
Keeping in mind the verse above, share this prayer with God, listening for his response:
“Lord, envelope me in your Spirit today so that I have no doubts about your presence in my life and love for me. Draw me into your embrace and allow me to rest in your comfort as your child. Give my heart words of love from you that I need to hear.”
Journal the words or thoughts that God brings to you in this loving embrace.
Up for a challenge?
There’s probably someone in your life who could use a reminder of how much they're loved by you and God. Perhaps it's a child, or a parent, or a spouse, or another significant person in your life. Ask God to reveal who needs a loving word from you, and reach out to them. Put your words in writing if possible so they can keep them. You never know how much your words might be needed to be heard today by someone you love.
By Kami Gilmour, mom of 5 teen and young adult kids. She's also the author of the best-selling book Release My Grip.