Stop talking about college plans, and run your own race

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"Run your own race" by Laura Mary Phelps (CatholicMom.com)

Via Pixabay (2014), CC0 Public Domain

I recently read a beautiful article about how to survive this sad season of saying goodbye; the letting go of our college age children, and the waving in a new season of life that is often laced with a tinge of sorrow, a longing for things to remain the same, big emotions that have us poring over old photographs of the first day of nursery school, aching hearts that whisper, “how did it go by so fast?”

When my first-born went off to college I was told, “It will be hard when you have that empty chair at the dinner table…but it gets easier.” I smiled, and politely agreed. I did not have the courage to admit to her … my oldest had not been at the dinner table for over a year. I did not have the courage to admit to myself, that this college thing? It might not work out. So saying goodbye? I felt I already had. Dinners would be hard? They already were. 

And so this? I am writing this for the sorrowful mamas. The ones who read articles about what they imagined life with their child would like like. The ones who cringe when the college conversation comes up over drinks with friends. The ones who grieve the death of a child who is still very much alive. The ones who lose their baby to the world, to addiction, to the wrong and fast crowd, despite their warnings and loving presence. The ones who have had to field questions like, “So … what are the college plans???” when there may not be any, and the ones who find themselves scrolling through photos of proud families on their phone … arm in arm with their child, sporting university sweatshirts, wearing perfectly plastered smiles. The ones who receive the graduation party invite in the mail, who look at Pinterest ideas for throwing their own party, knowing deep down, this celebration will go  no further than an online bulletin board. The ones who go through the motions, sending out applications and writing those checks, knowing it is the wrong thing to do, recognizing the waste of money, but wanting so desperately to feel normal.

I write this for the mothers who have no idea how they got here, how they didn’t see this coming, who ache for a do-over, who would give their left arm and quite possibly their right, too … just to have the normal “season of saying good bye.” Just to wear that stupid college sweatshirt. Just to post that perfect dorm-room picture. Just to have one typical family dinner. This post is for you.

Because here is the thing. You, sweet friend, are not alone. Not by a long shot. You will feel incredibly alone. And probably ashamed. Absolutely let down. And you will blame yourself for poor parenting. And life? It will feel unfair.

And this? ALL A LIE. 

If your child has lost their way, and not quite on track, and life is not lining up with the dreams you had and quite frankly, always assumed would come true … I want you to know … that is okay. It is okay. Your child … whatever the season and whatever the path that child is in or on … is your gift from God. Did you hear that? They are a gift. Yes, even the angry one. Yes, even the one sneaking out at night. Yes, even the one who stopped going to church.  Yes, even the one who got pregnant. Yes, even the one who says they hate you. Yes, even the one self-medicating. Yes, even the one who was suspended. Yes, even the one who steals from you. Yes, even the one who is not planning on going to college. Yes, even the one who dropped out of college. Yes, even the one who you no longer recognize.

God gave you this child, and chose you as mother, and He is not surprised by any of it. All that He asks? Stop looking at the crowd that is running in the opposite direction from you, and follow Him. Stay your course.

And another thing? None of this is easy. We will continue to walk around with smiles on our faces and swords in our hearts, and no … it will not ever be easy. But since when was following Jesus easy? Mamas … we have a job to do and a God who gives us the strength to do it.

From the moment we said yes to this baby, we have had a most important job. And that job is not getting them into the best college. That job is not having photos on social media of move in day at the dorm. That job is not even being able to say “this child is my best friend.” Our one and only job is to love them to heaven. And I will bet that is what you are doing. With every hard consequence, with every difficult conversation, with every tip and tool you pull out of your parenting kit … I will bet that more than you desire college for your child, you desire heaven.

As I navigate my own way through the murky waters of “I didn’t sign up for this,” I have learned a couple of things. The first? The moment I said my “yes,” I signed up for this. So I need to get over that. The second? I do not ask teenagers about college plans. Did you know how much that stresses them out? It does. I know a young man who told me he dreads running into his parents’ friends in town, for fear they will ask him about his future plans. How sad is that?

We start prepping them for college way too early. We whip them up like butter — into a ball of anxiety, then wonder why they self-medicate. We go on college tours years in advance and make threats that seem to always begin with, “How will you ever survive at college if you can’t do this one thing at home?” We are failing them by not living in the present moment, and pressuring them to plan for the future. A future, by the way, that is so unpredictable. So yeah. I stopped asking kids about college. And I stopped asking parents, too. Frankly, there are better questions to ask each other, don’t you think?

Another thing I have learned? Our children are not only their own person, but they are not even ours at all. They belong to God. They are on loan. Sure, we will be proud when they score the winning touchdown, or are crowned Prom Queen, or win first prize at the science fair. But  guess what? That is their win. Their prize. Their crown. Not ours.

I think we forget this. I think we get so derailed when our dreams for our kids do not match the dreams they have for themselves because we have forgotten that we were not meant to live through them. We have forgotten that God has mapped out their race, and when they become adults the only part we play in that is to hand them a paper cup of water on the 15th mile and encourage them to keep on running (providing, of course, it is in the right direction).

Somewhere between signing up as room mom and friending our child on Instagram, our roles got blurred. We are not supposed to be best friends, but best guides. And we are not supposed to prevent them from falling, but teach them the best way to get up on their own. What if the the so-called problems and obstacles that get in the way of OUR plans for our kids, are not problems at all … but opportunities? Opportunities to parent stronger individuals, increase conversation, become better listeners, work on the stuff we’d rather ignore, and most of important of all? To cling to the Cross.

Nothing brings a mother to her knees like a lost child. Amen?

Sweet friends, a university sweatshirt, an academic scholarship, a letter of acceptance posted on a mom’s Facebook page, as if mom were the one who did the hard work … all of this is great. I mean, really super. And I am not even being sarcastic. (OK. I am … Just a little. I apologize … it is the jealousy talking … I told you … none of this is easy.)

But the thing is, it is not going to be everybody’s story. Unfortunately, the success stories are the ones that we post, therefore, the ones we see. And all I can say to that is … run your own race, sister.

Remember John 21:22. Jesus was walking with Peter, who turned to see the disciple whom Jesus loved following him. And when Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?” 

Jesus said to him, “What if I want him to remain until I come? What concern of it is yours? You follow me.”

The same goes for us, too. What concern of it is ours that so-and-so’s kid graduated with honors and was accepted to Yale? What concern of it is ours that the neighbor’s kid failed three classes and won’t graduate as planned? It is time that we keep our eyes on our own paper. That we go where Jesus is calling us — where He is calling our children, and focus only on that.

And this is hard. We are a click away from seeing all of the great accomplishments, vacations, and every meal we never needed to see that a person who we barely know is eating at some fancy resort that we will never visit. Friends, I firmly believe that it is impossible to stay the course while looking at all the other runners. It is impossible to persevere and not lose hope if we continue to ask Jesus, “What about her? Her kid?” When your child’s life doesn’t look like the child’s next door, it does not mean there is something wrong with your child, but rather, it means that it is time to stop looking next door!

God has huge plans for all of us, with the hopes of the same destination, and nothing is wasted. Most especially, your tears. So if this season of goodbye is hard for you for unusual reasons … go and cry, and please, sister … cry hard. Get it all out. But do not, for one minute, compare your story to anyone else’s or believe it is worth less.

More importantly, do not compare your child’s story with another’s. And know that this mama is fervently praying. For the kids with the scholarships and sweatshirts, and for those who didn’t graduate as planned. For the children packing up to leave home, and those unpacking the hurt and staying right where they are. I’ve got you all covered. I am running right beside you.

And look, I will be the first to raise my hand and say, “This life of mine? It is not at all how I had imagined.” But I will raise that same hand high and say, “This child of mine? This child is perfect for me, because God chose this child for me.”

I have learned more valuable lessons from running the hard race than the easy one. I have gained more strength from sprinting uphill battles, then coasting downhill into a pool of milk and honey. And the prize at the end of the race? Heaven. Intimate, personal relationship with Jesus Christ in heaven. With each hard step and out of breath mile, I have run straight into the arms of Jesus. And this clinging to the cross? This deep love and “Oh, I SO get that sword in your heart” for Mary? This thirst for Christ? This learning to run my own race and not give up? I owe it all to my beautiful child who is nothing like yours, but everything like God’s.

So if this is a tough season for you, remember this: Run your own race, sister. It has been tailored made for you and you are a fierce mama warrior who is going to finish strong. One foot in front of the other, eyes glued to the cross. Because when all is said and done, and you are face to face with your Maker, I promise you, he will not ask about your kid’s GPA or what he majored in. But rather, he will hold in his hands the most beautiful jar of your collected tears, and he will smile at you and say, “Thank you for following me. Well done. Now come, and see how great your reward!”

And that? That right there is worth more than a university sweatshirt, any day.


Copyright 2018 Laura Mary Phelps

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About Author

Laura Phelps is a wife and mom to four, who enjoys writing, blogging and speaking about her faith. She serves as a Regional Area Coordinator for Walking With Purpose, a women’s Catholic Bible Study, and blogs at www.lauramaryphelps.com.

14 Comments

  1. Beautifully written! I have a child who will not be going to college and i, knowing that God has huge plans for him, have been trying to let go of the envy I feel when I see other parents taking their kids on college visits and talking about all the plans their kids have for the future. When people ask what my son is going to do next year I proudly say, “I don’t know. He doesn’t know. But God knows and it’s going to be great!”

  2. Wonderful post! One of my four is almost 11 months substance free today and he’s a college drop-out. And I am just as proud of him as I am my college graduate continual over achiever.
    They are all our gifts and thanks for your brilliant post!

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