The only time my oldest daughter has ever been anything other than happy to leave me was the day she was born. A week past her due date, Emily had arranged herself inside my body in a way that signalled she was entirely happy with her warm and solitary life and entirely uninclined to change that. It took a team of medical professionals and numerous chemical and mechanical interventions to convince her otherwise. She was literally pulled into the world and away from me, elbow first, face up, and screaming. For the last seventeen years, she’s been determined to continue that trend.
Emily embraced every developmental milestone she crossed-walking, running, riding a tricycle, going to school, learning to drive—with fearless enthusiasm and confidence and independence. It’s not that she doesn’t love me—she’s always happy to come home and share her adventures with me. She just loves to be on her own, exploring, content with her own company. I love her quiet confidence, and it’s helped spare my soul from the heartache other mothers suffer as their daughters move through childhood to womanhood.
Last June, Emily left for a ten-day trip to Paris with her school and she had to peel my arms from her body when I hugged her goodbye. Last week, I posted the obligatory first day of school picture with her in her “Seniors 2019” shirt on Facebook, and only after the flurry of “likes” and “hearts” from friends did I realize this milestone was the “first of the lasts” before she graduates. I hadn’t stopped to savor the moment and I was overwhelmed with sadness.
Now she’s making a spreadsheet of all the colleges she wants to visit between now and Spring Break and I’m having a hard time breathing.
My daughter has always been her own person. But I’m growing increasingly aware of how little time there is left there for me to fulfill my calling to help her became the kind of person, the kind of woman, God wants her to be, before she sets off on her own for good (more or less). And it feels like the hardest part of that process is still in front of me, as I work to keep my mothering compass calibrated to the truths in God’s Word, and not drawn off course by pressures of the culture.
The Magnetic Pull of Competing World-Views
My husband wasn’t raised in a conservative Christian home, but I was, and his perspective on his hopes for his daughter have been partly shaped by my stories. Like many girls of my generation and background, I was raised to believe that marriage and motherhood were not just inevitable, but the highest calling to which a Christian woman should aspire. That belief was my north star as I navigated high school and Christian college.
But then I graduated with an English degree but without marriage on the horizon, unsure of what my vocation should be, and even more uncertain about whether or how to pursue one. So I tacked from one job to another, feeling spiritually and circumstantially adrift. Marriage and children came eventually, and I willingly left the working world to experience “God’s best” in it.
I poured myself into the work of motherhood, and watched the fruits of my work in the outside world go unharvested and the ground in which they’d grown go fallow, while the fruits of my labors at home felt slow-growing and not always easy to discern. As my daughter reached high school, and the first school conversations about the college application gauntlet and Sunday school sessions on “dating and waiting” began, I found myself asking questions on behalf of my daughter similar to those I’d asked of myself at her age, and longing for more solid answers.
God sent me back to his word with my questions, but the answers I found were far different than what secular culture argued or my cultural Christian upbringing had taught. Neither the secular vision of career-fueled prosperity, nor the Christian cultural vision of familial happily ever after, has their source in the Scriptures. The book of Proverbs is a book about character, not college. Paul the Apostle says it’s actually better to not marry, and the One who called him never did.
With children, daughters, of my own I was convinced to hold onto what I saw throughout scripture. To dismiss Paul’s words and center my daughter’s preparation for adulthood on things God neither prescribes nor promises would be presumption, not stewardship.
The True North of the Greatest Commandments
That’s why my true north in this season has been Jesus’ words to the Pharisees, that all of the Law and the Prophets depend, not on marriage or a master’s degree, but on the commands to love God and love neighbor. So because, to quote Jen Wilkin, the heart cannot love what the mind does not know, I will continue to encourage my daughter to deepen her knowledge of God by deepening her knowledge of his word, his world, and the work he’s done in it through the people he’s made in his image. I will help her to know her gifts and help her grow in them. I will continually remind her what family is and what it means to love and serve them—not just the one she’s grown up in, but the one she’s united to through Christ. I won’t promise her a marriage outside of the one John writes about in Revelation.
The navigational tools and skills I am passing on to my daughter as she prepares to launch into adulthood will help her be ready for wherever the winds of God’s providence take her. She will finally be living life on her own as she’s always dreamed, but she will never be alone. And I will always be ready to welcome her home.