Holding On and Letting Go at 17

Raising teenagers is a combination of Go! and Whoa!

You want them to go and take on more responsibility and become more independent.  Go and achieve their academic, creative and athletic goals. Go and tackle challenges and opportunities with courage.

Yet there are times when being more independent seems as if they’re leaving their parents’ opinions, values, advice, and worldview behind. Then we, the guardians of their foundation and architects of their development (second to God), want to cry, “Whoa there! Where do you think you’re going?”

Where, indeed? If only we knew! 

We want success and happiness for them.  We want a guarantee that they will make the right decisions, choose goodness, and always be okay no matter how far away they roam from us or who they invite to accompany them on that road.

We want to feel assured that we did our best in raising them, equipping them with all the soft and hard skills they need to forge their way in this beautiful world.  Did we do enough to help them understand how vital their faith and their relationship with God is?

I’m reflecting on these conundrums of holding on and letting go, because my son Berto is 17. Perhaps it’s too soon to worry about next year when he’ll be an adult heading off to college, but I can’t help it. I confess: I’m scared to let him go.

Sure, there are times when I look forward to him being responsible for his own schedule, transportation, and even faith life.  But it also worries me. What paths will he take? What values will he choose to defend in a confusing world full of relativism? Who will he choose to be his honorary tribe out there? 

And will he be cautious but also bold as he travels from place to place, novel experience to novel experience?

I think teaching him how to drive last year was an analogy for our current relationship. There were many times when I cried “Stop!” or “Go!”, depending on the situation and his reaction or non-reaction to it. There were many times I prayed as we set out (especially on the highway); prayed as I embraced him before he left me for driving school; and prayed again as he drove off with his instructor. Just be calm; just be calm! Trust him, I told myself repeatedly.

There were also many times when my own weaknesses came into play while I attempted to guide him.  Sometimes I gave my son confusing directions or had him change course too quickly. I yelled at him.  Often I exclaimed, “What the heck are you doing?” He, in turn, asserted my directions were unclear, poorly communicated. We were stressed and frustrated with each other. 

It’s not easy to navigate from the passenger seat.  You’ve ceded control. And sometimes you, the parent, don’t know what’s best or where they, your precious teenager, should be going. 

But as I taught my son to drive, I also recognized the abilities and skills he has that I lack. I witnessed his strengths at work. He kept his cool when an aggressive driver threw something at our minivan with all my children on board. The incident wrecked my day and caused me many tears, but my son was calm and just kept moving forward. I was incredibly proud of him. Later, he also avoided another accident while driving with his instructor, thinking and responding quickly to danger at a four-way stop.

Now he is driving everywhere by himself, near and far.  I can’t always accompany him. I can’t guard him from every negative thing he may confront on the roadway.

I must pray and trust all will be well for my son.

Berto, my strong, intelligent, handsome firstborn, is going to be just fine. I do trust him, and I trust God to help him navigate his promising future.

I must let go by healthy degrees.

When my son was a little boy, he used to love a book titled If You Hold My Hand by Jillian Harker. I read it to him often, because as a little child he was often unsure, more timid in confronting new things, situations, and people. Now? Now the story has changed.  Our relationship has changed. Berto has grown and matured. The new title of our story would be, If You Let Go of My Hand.

That is why I am so grateful and honored when he chooses to discuss a problem with me, wanting and appreciating my perspective. I’m happy when he shares his joys, too – those incidents I could not know about except through his openness.

I will release his hand more and more as he approaches manhood, for it’s time my son put away childish things. 

But in my heart I will forever and always hold him close, for just as another classic story that we often read when he was small, Love You Forever by Robert Munsch, states so well and so poignantly, as long as I’m living my baby he’ll be.

Hillary Ibarrahttps://hillaryibarra.com/
Hillary Ibarra is a faith and humor writer and the author of  The Christmas List, an inspirational holiday novella based on real events. She plays guitar, bakes, hugs trees, and firmly believes that everything in life is better with Jesus. She writes about faith and family life at HillaryIbarra.com.

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