The Wild Card Year

“Raising people is not some lark, its serious work with serious repercussions.  Its air traffic control. You can’t step out for a minute, you can barely pause to scratch your ankle.” – Kelly Corrigan

As we draw to the end of another school year and I am about to graduate my second child, I’ve been reflecting a lot on the parenting journey.  It comes complete with a million ups and downs, worries and heartaches, victories and accomplishments, and is truly a life changing experience. I would say I’m smack in the middle of the raising kids, having somehow survived the sleepless nights and potty training days and now launching some out of the nest while still having some high school years left to navigate.  My Grandma always said, “when they are little they step on your toes, but when they are big they step on your heart”.  I would say that’s pretty true and while my fellow big kid mom friends and I constantly joke about the books we will write one day after we’ve raised all of our kids, we are, at the same time a bit serious about the lack of helpful resources for the parenting years that span big kids.  I think part of this is due to the fact that these big kids are on their own life journey and it can be tricky to write or talk about it while allowing them to keep their privacy as they navigate these often messy but glorious years.  The other part is simply that maybe none of us feels like we really have the answers to this phase.  We just do the very best we can and do a whole lot of praying.  

Recently my friend and I, who both have kids graduating high school this year were talking about how strange it is to parent through the senior year of high school. We can’t really figure out what to call it…the lost year, the twilight year, the wild card year, the golden year?  This is now the second child for both of us that we parented through this season and every time there are surprises.  There have been great surprises and victories that we have celebrated for sure.  And there are other surprises that keep us on our toes and holding on for dear life.  It feels a bit like the year that you hold your breath and pray that you make it to commencement unscathed.  The possibilities for huge success AND huge failures are held simultaneously.  For me, it has been both the coolest year of parenting and the most terrifying year of parenting.  As I learned once, it can all make a hard left turn in an instant so nothing should be taken for granted.  They are fiercely independent and yet still need us, maybe more than ever.  I now realize that I may get to the point in time when my 4th child graduates and I still may not feel like I have any sage wisdom but I feel like I’ve learned a couple things so far as I’ve parented through the big years and specifically the last year before they leave the nest for their college adventures.  I am certainly no expert and these are simply thoughts I toss around as I learn my way through!

Hold them loosely.  This is perhaps the hardest thing we have to do as parents, especially as mamas.  There was a season where we walked through a very dark and difficult time with one of my kids and I had to constantly remind myself that this child was not solely mine.  She was simply on loan to me by God and I needed to hold her with open hands.  I remember feeling like that was both freeing and terrifying at the same time.  It honestly still is, but God loves every single one of my children more than I ever could and He has simply chosen me, as their mama to have a front row seat to their life journey. There is no getting it perfect in parenting and we can all too quickly find ourselves rolling down the hill of “what ifs”.  But I think that’s the worst thing we can do because this kind of thinking also implies that how our kids turn out is solely our responsibility and that is just not the case.  We teach and guide and offer advice and try to steer them when we see things getting off course but at the end of the day, they are independent people who will make their own choices. I think we  all know that sometimes, they won’t make a good choice and I’m certain we can all remember a few of our own bad choices and now feel pity for our own parents.  Sometimes they will choose something that doesn’t reflect the values of the family they are a part of or feels flat out embarrassing to us as their parents.  I know at this point, I can solidly say I never judge another parent according to what their big kid is doing because I know that the small pieces we see are often more complicated and difficult than we ever realize. Holding them loosely in the good moments is also hard because every mama knows we want to hold onto the great moments the hardest. I know I am SO excited for my kiddo’s college years ahead of her but she will be missed at home and it represents a forever change for our family.  The good and the hard do co-exist and this is one of those change points in life where we see it and smile big through the tears because goodness it is bittersweet.  

Sometimes its really hard not to parent out of a place of fear.  And thats just being human and wanting so badly for our kids to have the very best life.  This is super hard especially when you’ve maybe had some parenting experiences that left a bit of a mark on you.  Parenting has terrifying moments so even saying “dont parent out of fear” feels like asking us to do something superhuman. All of our life experiences teach us something whether or not we realize it is happening.  If you have walked through something extremely difficult with one child, it can be hard to put that in its own place and not drag it along in the parenting of the other children.  Maybe its our own personal experiences during that time in our own lives that brings up feelings of fear.  I know that I look back and who I was at 17 and 18 and while I was a good kid I know there are things I want for my girls that I can now see I was lacking in.  Our past can come to haunt our parenting especially in the big years and I think thats natural because we remember it so vividly. No parent wants to see their kids make the same mistakes that they did.  I think the key is to recognize it, sit with the hard and give it the space it deserves, maybe grieve some things you never have.  A friend asked me recently if I think we process things as time goes by and after walking through several hard things in my life, for me that is a resounding yes.  I think if we had to process the hardest things of life all at one time then we would crumble.  I think the hard things of life ebb and flow through our consciousness throughout our life and as we live our lives and become more resilient through experiences we are able to process various aspects of the harder experiences and see them differently.  I think that is what we hope for in the parenting of our big kids; that those life experiences offer us opportunities to parent not out of fear but rather out of a wisdom we have developed over time and we can hopefully recognize the difference.  

Celebrate…like with your friends.  This is true for all of life.  But there is something extra special about being really intentional with taking a time out and celebrating hard and big milestones of parenting with your friends.  I’m just gonna go ahead and say its biblical.  They talk about making markers and celebrating certain events all over the old testament so we are just being biblical about it! The last time we graduated a kiddo (and it was a doozy…one to be celebrated!!!) my friend and I took off for a quick weekend getaway to a spa in the mountains.  It was just our way of pressing pause on life, breathing out and saying…o.k.  We did it!!  Of course it doesn’t have to be a weekend away or involve a spa (but its not a bad way to go ;)) but slowing down and being intentional in those moments allows us as mamas to take a deep breath and take it all in and acknowledge the work of parenting for all that it is.  

I am far from and expert and there are many wise people who say all the things far better than I could ever hope to.  Kimberly and I have really appreciated the advice that is shared by Sissy Goff whether it be her Instagram account, the podcast or her books.  Recently I listened to an interview that Sissy did on her podcast, Raising Boys and girls, with Kelly Corrigan who I also have grown to love and appreciate.  I’m linking it below because it was SO good and Kelly shares so many nuggets of wisdom after raising her two girls.  Kelly has written some books that are all on my reading list but one linked below will go on my summer reading list for sure.  

Tell Me More by Kelly Corrigan

Podcast Interview with Kelly & Sissy (this is SO good!)

Raising Boys and Girls – so many great resources!



Adulting, Raising chicks




The Wild Card Year

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