The moment a child is placed in your arms, your are faced with two seemingly opposing objectives: protect her from the world and prepare her for it. Its like a cosmic scale that slowly tips from protection to preparation as the child grows. But balance is elusive in the choppy terrain of parenting. And half the time you are just trying to figure out if you or your kids are standing on the right side of the fulcrum.
My teen daughter is taking college courses this year though our state’s PSEO program. She found a Christian university with not only the exact classes she was interested in, but also a reputation for caring professors and alumni that were doing Kingdom work. But this school is in the heart of downtown Minneapolis. And I wasn’t about to let my teen driver navigate Twin Cities rush hour to get there. Especially with Minnesota winter as a factor.
A friend mentioned that an express bus runs directly from our nearest suburb to campus so my daughter applied. And when that acceptance letter blew into her inbox, the whirlwind of registration and book ordering and school supply shopping took over our lives. I was so excited for her new adventure, I didn’t stop to wonder if the urban setting would unsettle me … until it did.
In late August, we boarded the bus for a practice ride and settled amidst the smartly dressed professionals heading downtown for their workday. I sighed with relief at all these safe-looking bus-mates reading, snoozing and absentmindedly scrolling their phones as the driver expertly navigated rush-hour traffic. I envisioned my daughter dutifully doing her homework on the 40 minute commute and smiled at how well this plan was working out.
But as the bus pulled up to the downtown stop, my smile faded. I assumed that when my friend said the bus stops “right next to campus,” it meant right next to campus. The stop was actually three blocks away. With the city looming large before us, it felt like three miles. And through my mama bear eyes, nobody looked safe anymore.
My heart picked up speed as I glanced at a panhandler down on the corner. I tucked my purse securely under my arm and we set off in the direction of campus.
Along the way, we passed a hospital with all manner of interesting characters milling about. I noticed the line forming outside a pain clinic and my mind snapped to all the agitated narcotic-addicted patient’s I’ve seen in the ER over the years. We came to a park where some raucous characters were shouting and laughing on a bench. And I about died when I noticed a prophylactic on the ground.
In a silent panic, I mentally calculated how much it would cost to send her via Uber. The answer is $4104 for the semester, which didn’t seem so bad in that moment. But I suspected my husband would disagree.
All the experts say that the late teen years are when parents must make the switch from control to influence. So I decided to try my hand at the latter.
In my sweetest mom voice, I mentioned that it wasn’t too late to change her mind about this school. She reminded me that it is too late to apply anywhere else. I mused that maybe she could look into their online options. She told me she wanted to be on campus. I pointed out that it would be a cold walk in the Minnesota winter. She shrugged and said she has a warm coat.
My teen wasn’t swayed by my not so subtle inklings that mama wasn’t in love with this idea anymore. In fact, she seemed to be taking the whole experience in stride. Realizing my influence was nil, I grumbled that she could have picked a community college or self-contained Christian campus like a good little sheltered homeschooler. She laughed and said she likes the city.
I looked at her sideways and opened my mouth to offer another reason why we should rethink this plan. But then I remembered what kind of daughter I set out to raise: confident, courageous and Kingdom-minded.
This is a girl who spent the majority of her childhood hosting kids from hard places. She visited weekly with refugees in their home when she was in middle school. She’s been to Paris, Haiti and the Presidential Inauguration of one of the most heated elections in modern US history. She is a natural leader who has been mentored by adults from our church who come alongside the homeless, the trafficked, the hurting, the stranger and the foreigner.
My daughter knows there are people living hard lives all around us and she’s always been taught to view them as worthy. She’s not afraid to pass a fellow human being on the street. Not because she’s naive to danger. But because she sees the world through Kingdom eyes. Which is exactly how I want her to see it.
So I shut my mouth and reminded myself that when your child is ready to fly, and you’ve prepared her to do so, it’s counterintuitive to clip her wings.
A lump formed in my throat as I felt the weight of the scales tipping yet again. But I also felt peace knowing, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that both of us were exactly where we needed to be.