Letting Go – My Daughter Goes to College

Writer’s Digest award winning author, Sherri Gragg, reflects on the struggles and triumphs parents face as she prepares her oldest daughter for her journey to college. 

by Sherri Gragg, author of Arms Open Wide: A Call to Linger in The Savior’s Presence

Grieving in New Orleans

Sometime around 3:00 a.m. The Big Easy finally settled down to sleep. Behind more layers of locked and barred gates and doors than I had ever experienced, I lay awake in the dark next to all that mattered most to me: my sleeping seventeen-year-old daughter.

Meghan's shoes on UTShe wanted to leave me, you see, and I, like some kind of idiot, seemed to be assisting her in the process. I packed my bags and drove her across four states to an adorable Victorian rental that had looked so much more secure on VRBO (Vacation Rentals by Owner) than it did in person. From the safety of my living room in Tennessee, the house appeared to have nothing but New Orleans charm—all stained glass and gingerbread trim. When we arrived, we found it nestled between a shuttered, abandoned house and an impound lot. Thick bars wrapped each lovely window. Every arrival and departure required the navigation of multiple security doors and locks.

All of this so that Tulane might attempt to woo my little girl away from me with the sweetest of siren songs about IB and AP credits, financial aid, and beignets. Blah, blah, blah . . .

Tulane VisitI lay there in the dark, overcome with betrayal and disbelief. I loved New Orleans—the architecture and jazz, early morning café au lait and beignets at Café du Monde where the air was sweet with powdered sugar, the heady scent of Cajun spices wafting through the air alongside the sweet strains of jazz moving through tropical blossoms and beneath the twisted limbs of Live Oaks draped with Spanish moss.

But New Orleans, working all its charms, might lead my baby girl away from me!

What right did it have to ask? Did it pray for her as I did, begging God for a daughter? Did it weep with joy when the ultrasound tech announced a baby girl was growing safely in the dark and muffled quiet of my womb? Did it nurse her at its breast? Wipe every tear? Did it cheer her on when she grew weary or rise up in terrifying anger to defend her when she was in danger?

…mothering Meghan had been beautiful and deep, a soulful journey—and I never wanted to forget a minute of it

That night, as the sound of jazz drifting along Bourbon Street became quieter, tears rolled silently down my cheeks, soaking the pillow beneath my head. My sorrow over Meg’s leaving home felt absolute—final and complete. I could not have imagined that I was experiencing only the first pangs of a long, extended period of anticipatory grief.

Meg and Mom NO-3

It Started in Paris

Several months later I sat on her bed one morning after she had zoomed down the street in her little red Fiat, music blaring from her speakers. Sitting in the silence of her room, I looked around. The walls were covered in all the things Meg loved—beautiful quotes from literature, posters of her favorite bands, and countless photographs she had taken of images that stirred her soul. I paused to savor it because mothering Meghan had been beautiful and deep, a soulful journey—and I never wanted to forget a minute of it. My eyes lingered just above her pillow on a black-and-white poster-sized photo of Paris—a gift from me.

Meg Tourist

She had gone to Europe the previous summer and, of course, fell in love with France. When she called me from Paris, the connection was bad, but I could still hear in her voice the truth. Part of her heart had slipped away, hidden in the cafes and museums, the pastry shops and the lavender fields.

When it was time to end the call, we said good-bye and I sighed, whispering aloud to myself, “Someday she will go, and it will be much longer than two weeks.”

And with breathtaking rapidity, we are already there. Plans have been made, graduation invitations were ordered, and her next home—a residence hall—has been secured.

I am no longer counting the time she lives under my roof in decades and years but in months, tracking their swift slip through my fingers by the few remaining items on a graduation checklist.

My baby girl is leaving, this one who is heart of my heart, and I can’t imagine how I will ever be the same.

Motherhood is the strangest and sweetest of loves, breathed into fierce beauty by the very breath of God. These tiny, red, screaming, alien-looking creatures are placed into our arms, and we immediately proclaim them beautiful. Then we spend long days and sleepless nights for years and years pouring everything we have and are into them, all in preparation for the day of sacrifice.

The day when we lay our hearts on the altar and let them go.

Jesus Calling for GraduatesFor more tools on how to prepare someone you love (or yourself!) for graduation, click here to learn about Jesus Calling for Graduates.

9 thoughts on “Letting Go – My Daughter Goes to College

  1. Beautiful! My heart is breaking in a good way that my first born son will be leaving for college in just a few short months. It’s been the most wonderful gift to raise him into the young man I now see before me. It hurts my heart and I cry all the time, already missing him so much. Why did it go so fast? Gosh, if only we could keep them just a bit longer.

    Nicely written and the best to your girl.

  2. The single most difficult thing we as parents will ever do; had read when originally posted, when our oldest had finally made the move to another state. Still resonates.

  3. Slightly different ache for me. My daughter finished college and moved 5 hours away. But, starting around her junior year she suddenly had no use for me. I know she loves me. But, she just doesn’t connect with me. She is my everything. Years of teaching her to be strong, confident and independent, and this empty heart is my reward. She has no idea how much it hurts.

    1. I feel your ache. It is real! Praying for you and that the connection with your daughter will be restored.

    2. I am so sorry, Erica. I know how painful this is. I hope it brings you the smallest measure of comfort to know that this is not at all uncommon. Many, many, mothers experience this at this time. Most often, it is a painful part of a child’s breaking away to being the process of becoming independent. Most of these kids come back around.

      Almost all of my closest friends have gone through this. I have experienced it as well.

      I am praying for your comfort.

      Peace…Sherri Gragg

    3. Erica, you taught her well. She became independent, strong, and confident. Take comfort in that. You did what God asked you to do: care for and love her. The pain of her rejection will remain, but will subside with God’s help. He has not rejected you. Trust me on this. Continue to pray for God’s protection over her, and for His will to be fulfilled in her life. And see it happen.

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