on launching kids from great distances

by Tara Livesay on November 12, 2013

photo“You’ve given her roots, now give her wings.”

That is what they all say.

“God loves her more than you, trust Him with her.”

That is what the spiritual and wise will advise.

As mothers and fathers choosing to live and work far from our passport countries and most of the institutions of higher learning, the day of sending a child out of the nest to college can feel even more daunting for us.

I think we can all agree, it starts out quite daunting enough.

While those words of advice can sound cliché, we need the people who remind us that this is the nature of the beast. We don’t have these children in order to keep them under our roofs and thumbs for a lifetime. We can usually be rational enough to agree that we raise our children fully intending to launch them; we want to produce self-sustaining, responsible, grownup-ish  individuals.

When I am not so rational I believe I have been tricked, like someone sped up time and I wasn’t given my full 18 year allotment. In those irrational moments I think about destroying the passport, bolting the doors, refusing to buy an airline ticket, sobbing until my blood vessels burst, or thrashing on the ground with my arms gripping her ankles like a vice.  I’ve heard things like this happen from time to time. (Ahem.)

In my own upbringing I was given two “free backs”.  That to say, the first two launch missions were aborted and I returned tail between my legs, begging for mercy and access to Mom and Dad’s refrigerator.  It was the third try that finally stuck, when I was 25 years old.

I remember my parents not seeming to terribly annoyed at having me back.  In many ways they seemed happy to have me.  As we are launching our second almost fully functional adult right now, I am understanding the patience my parents exhibited upon my return(s).  Our kids grow up too quickly, and it never feels very comfortable to transition to the next phase. Change is hard. Letting go is harder. Drastically changing our long-held role, a role that can be a part of our very identity, is difficult albeit necessary.

Many years ago when my daughter was little, I was explaining to her that my new job required me to travel and I’d be gone more often.  She listened without comment. I finally said, “Change is really hard, honey.”  She thought about that a moment and said, “I agree. I hate change.  I like dollars.”  Even though our conversation never connected in any meaningful way, we found agreement.

Change stinks. 

This stuff is painful.  The idea that I will be 3,000 miles away without any knowledge of her comings and goings strikes panic in my Momma heart. It seems I’ve been telling myself that knowing where she is all the time – is what keeps her safe.  Now, I know that is ridiculous, but it is true nonetheless.   I thought it might get easier with the second child. My husband and I are finding it just as daunting the second time around.

In a letter I wrote to her earlier this year, I said,

“When they hand you a baby after you have performed miraculous feats of superhuman proportions to bring that little person into the world, they don’t tell you about what is coming; the greater pain of letting them go. They don’t tell you that those hours and hours of contractions and pushing are just the warm-up, eighteen years early, for the real pain.”

Our job as parents doesn’t end here, but it changes drastically.  We hope to take the advice of our friends and give our girl wings as we look to God, who loves her even more than we do, and trust Him with her future and ours.

~           ~           ~

For those of you that have launched your children from the mission field, what things have you found to be helpful, especially in the first year or two?  

Do you think being in a different country than your child makes the transition more difficult?


Tara Livesay  works in Port-au-Prince, Haiti with Heartline Ministries.

blog:  livesayhaiti.com  |  twitter (sharing with her better half): @troylivesay

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About Tara Livesay

Tara and her family have lived in Haiti since 2006. She resides in Port au Prince, where she serves as a CPM (Midwife) with Heartline Ministries working in the areas of Maternal and Newborn Health. Tara is a the wife of Troy, the mother of seven children ranging in age from 25 to 7 years old. Tara enjoys running, laughing, sarcasm and spending time with her family. Troy and Tara consider Haiti, Minnesota, and Texas "home".
  • Rachel ‘Pieh’ Jones

    Not college, but boarding…I do think being in a different country makes it harder, but that might be just because its all I’ve known and it is hard for all. But it seems so far, so hard to get to them, so many other things – other national elections or national disasters or local languages…so we can’t even share those external, scaffolding kinds of things. What helps? Crying. Calling. Emailing. Praying. Chocolate. Crying. Running. Nothing.

    • Tara Porter-Livesay

      Rachel, I just have no words to comfort you … sometimes nothing helps, you’re right. Praying for you this morning and hoping that the time together this Christmas is wonderful and extended and slow-moving. Much love.

    • Jessica P

      Rachel, not sure how else to reach you, but if you’re still in NY, I’ve asked a mutual friend of ours to connect us. You should try to visit Brooklyn Tabernacle on a Sunday or Tuesday. Our family lives in Brooklyn and we work with other international believers such as yourself. God bless!

  • Marilyn Gardner

    Love this post – As one who went to boarding, and then lived 8000 miles away all during college, and have had kids all over the world at different points my heart feels your words. That bittersweet, stomach-clenching, knotted feeling of nervous nausea – no matter how much we know they are in the right place for this time in their lives. I think Rachel’s words are so good…I’d also say that writing helps. Giving words to the feelings and the struggle can be cathartic and healing. Stuffing it inside too many cliches can be the worst. We have to find words to express this journey. Without them, we are lost. I do know for myself, that the first day of waking up in boarding school was always the hardest. I would wake in a confused fog, wondering where I was. In the stillness of early morning, I knew God was there. Knew it stronger than any theology or doctrine could ever have explained it. That’s what I pray for my kids.

    • Tara Porter-Livesay

      I love this Marilyn. I so hope my daughter feels a unexplained unsurpassed peace of His care for her, no matter where she is or how distant (geographically speaking) we are.

  • karph63

    I felt the same way you are feeling this past summer. We took our daughter to the states to get settled for college. It was very difficult and sad to leave for such a long time, but she has many friends at church, started college and is doing well, and is also looking for a part time job. We keep in touch almost daily, through Skype and Facebook private messages. It has gotten easier, but I definitely miss her.

    • Tara Porter-Livesay

      It gets easier. Those are words we need to see/hear. Thanks for writing them.

  • dustinxpatrick

    Great post! I just had my first child (a daughter) four months ago. I’m already terrified for the day she leaves the house. It’s a great reminder for someone this early in the process to cherish what we have, starting when they first arrive. Thanks for this!

    • Tara Porter-Livesay

      Don’t blink Dustin!

  • Richelle Wright

    i was preparing for that… launching from afar where he and his daddy would get on a plane after grad and he’d be gone and off on his great adventure. but those plans changed and we’re launching him this year stateside. i miss him every single day – but when i see (i.e. fb) and hear how much fun he’s having… how much growing he’s doing… the providing God’s doing… the learning and changing that’s taking place – I’m just overwhelmingly thankful. My heart is at peace because he was so ready and frankly, I thank God every day for how this transition has been so much better than what I’d anticipated and for which I’d spent at least 4 years trying to emotionally prepare myself.

    it is different. he’s a 10 hour drive or two relatively short flights away – not 5 time zones, on a different continent, me in a city with limited expensive flights and at least 24 hours of travel to get to him even if it would have been possible to just up and go. Which it wouldn’t have been. Yeah… I think that makes the transition significantly different and it has made me pray so much for those I know who are far away launching their dear ones. And, when I’m in a position to be a little morsel of home for some of those kids, our door is always open.

    But in some senses… we’re just postponing this experience. Oldest daughter will soon be taking off, too – and we probably won’t be in the States. And everyone says it is harder when its a daughter vs a son. So I’m looking forward to reading what others say.

    • Tara Porter-Livesay

      Prayers for what is ahead … and for peace more than panic on the journey, Richelle.

  • Great post! We have now successfully launched all three (I think). We launched all three from overseas but were able to visit within their first year back. We have also just spent a year Stateside on furlough during which which we were able to spend some significant time with each of them. Knowing where they are going, knowing who some of their friends were, knowing that because of our international connections, we know people nearby who can help in an emergency – all these things helped. As each one left, I cried – mostly because I knew that the relationships I have with each of them (two daughters with a son in the middle) is now irrevocably changed. We now have adult relationships rather than the one we had the first 18+ years of their lives. I am and will always be Dad, but now I am “Dad the Coach”, “Dad the Reference”. Seeing them all blossom into these really cool adult versions of my kids has been a joy.

    If I dwell on it too much I get that old twist in my heart again, but I am blessed in that I can look at each of my children and see them doing well. Our oldest is done with college (for a while anyway) and off on her own 11 month missionary adventure. Our middle child (our son) is on a bit of a steep learning curve since he chose not to continue college after the first year. Life outside of the “college bubble” is very different, but he is doing well, and has great plans for the future. Our youngest is in her sophomore year in college and has transitioned back pretty well. We can leave to go back overseas with confidence that she will be fine.

    It isn’t easy by any stretch of the imagination, but it is rewarding to see the years of hard work paying off as our kids stretch their new-found wings and begin to fly. The same God that gives us grace to enter a new culture and adapt also gives us grace in this new chapter of life.

    • Tara Porter-Livesay

      Awesome encouragement, Matt. So thankful you shared.

  • Kat Kendall

    Tara, this brought tears to my eyes. My mom and I were reminiscing today about those crazy first few years after I left, but before they got to the states. Strange, crazy years for both of us. I wish I had some profound advice for her, or you.. But I guess I don’t.. For as different as I was having grown up practically in a different world, I still managed to be such a typical college student [whatever that ‘really’ means].

    I guess all I have to say is that the cliche’s are pretty true. And hopefully in 7 years you both can sit and laugh about how much of a wreck you two were [even if she doesn’t recognize it for what it is yet!]

    • Tara Porter-Livesay

      Hi Kat! Great to hear from you. I think Paige and I are both overly cognizant of how large of a wreck we are …
      “The best way out is always through.” Robert Frost

  • Amos Barkhouse

    Yes I too enjoy “burning passports” and “sobbing till my blood vessels burst” from time to time.

  • Cyndi

    We have launched three. Our son in 2010, and then our two girls TOGETHER in 2013. My poor husband thinks I will never stop crying. I’ve questioned our calling so many times over this journey…and I still can’t get past knowing that we are supposed to be where we are and they are supposed to be where they are. It helps that I live in a community where there are a bunch of us mommas sobbing our way through church services. We never seem to be falling apart at the same time, so we hold each other up and soldier on.

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