Raising teenagers is not for the faint of heart! I’ve always heard this and known it to be true, but had not experienced it fully until I went for the first drive with my 16-year-old at the wheel. After she had been instructed in driver’s ed class and by my husband, this was my first experience handing over the controls to her and trusting her to bring us safely to our destination. I held my breath, I gasped, and I blurted out, “Stop!” multiple times, but in spite of my panic and fear, we made it there and home in one piece. I learned that she is, in fact, a good driver and can handle a ton of steel on wheels with the best of them.
Part of me was utterly amazed that this, my child from birth, who I fed, changed, and cared for, was actually growing up and becoming more independent and autonomous. She has always needed me to provide food, shelter, clothing, and the other basics of survival, but now, it seems, she is maturing and moving beyond dependency to more self-sufficiency. I am so excited for her to spread her wings and gradually experience the joy of independence, but at the same time, I am admittedly a little nervous about releasing her into the world and trusting her to make good decisions. Just like during our maiden car ride, I am fearful about her ability to travel safely through life and make sound judgments and decisions. I worry about not being there to protect her from the dangers and evils of the world. And mostly, I hope and pray that she comes to know, more and more each day, the joy and beauty of Jesus and our Faith, and that she remains under the protective care of the Church all of her life.
As our children grow and mature, it is necessary to begin to let go and entrust them more to the Lord as they embark on their own adventures and find their place in the world. As I write this, I am aware that my daughter getting her driver’s license is, in a sense, a turning point in our relationship and in her life. Just as she can now leave the house alone and drive to the store or to school, she is, increasingly, becoming more autonomous in many ways and less dependent upon my husband and me. Our hope as parents is that we have demonstrated and instilled in our children the importance of faith and dependence upon God to live happy and fulfilled lives. As they venture out into the world, the most important lesson we can teach them is to continue to be faithful to the Church, to frequent the Sacraments, and to maintain a relationship with God, who guides and sustains us. If we succeed at this, we can be assured that we have given our children a precious treasure, one that will lead them to the greatest of all destinations, eternal life in heaven.
Back to the driving analogy, when in traffic, we make many decisions and judgments about driving the car, often without much time to think about them. As our children become teenagers and young adults, they, too, will face a myriad of decisions, some fairly inconsequential, but some life-altering. What can we teach our children about steering through the thruways and intersections of life and navigating their journeys successfully?
While watching Disney’s Frozen II with my family recently, I was struck by the moment when Anna inspires the audience with her musical, “Do the Next Right Thing,” as she searches for the strength to rise up and move forward in a desperate situation. Sound advice for our young people who are just beginning their journeys from us, as parents, who have faced the trials and difficulties of maturing into adulthood ourselves. “But how do we know what the next right thing is?” you may be wondering. This the question Disney fails to answer, but one that the Catholic Church can be trusted to supply wisdom regarding. As a wise priest recently advised in a homily, “If you want to know what to do, stay close to the Church and to Jesus.” It is here, in the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist and Confession, that we hear the voice of Jesus speaking to us and instructing us. Under the protection of Mary, the Mother of God, also, we can be assured that we are heading in the right direction. Praying her Rosary daily for wisdom and strength are certain to keep us on the right path.
From Disney princesses to driver’s licenses, my little children are growing up and so will yours. We will always be their mothers, but they will need us less as they mature. They will have their own unique dreams, hopes, and plans, separate from the ones we have for them. Although they will be more independent and have lives of their own, we can always sustain them with our prayers. A suggestion I am beginning to incorporate into my own rosaries for my children is to bind them to the Immaculate Heart of Mary for her guidance and protection after each decade. Trusting in her care, we can have confidence that she is looking out for them and covering them with her motherly mantle as they go forward into life.