Letting Go

An Ignatian reflection from one parent to another

By Kathy Coffey-Guenther, PhD, senior mission and Ignatian leadership specialist

Photo by Landon Martin on Unsplash

Dear Fellow Parents: Welcome and Welcome Back!

We have made it through these tough months of pandemic living, and as we move back to campus, the possibilities for this new semester begin in earnest!

Over these next months, our students will be challenged in multiple ways through:

  • academic work,
  • social skills,
  • developing trusting relationships,
  • and engaging in new interests and opportunities- all in the still unfolding backdrop of the pandemic.

While all these invitations contribute to the heart of the transformational education of a Catholic and Jesuit university like Marquette, change is usually hard for all of us, especially in these times.

Letting go of the comfortable and familiar to make room to grow into who we are called to be in a new season of life can often lead to a sense of unease, growing pains and anxiety.

As much as our students are called to let go of what has been known and familiar in their lives to make space to grow into what will be, we too, as parents, are called to be open to growing into new relationships with our young adult children.

Photo of a student hugging a parent from Marquette move-in 2020

We parents are called to love and guide our children from afar, to lean into and trust the foundations that the past 18 plus years have offered them, and to trust that Marquette will provide the wise community- both academically and developmentally and spiritually- that will continue to help them become their best selves as they are called to be now.

Think back to your college days or early adulthood out in the workforce- think about how much rich living you may have done in those ages of 18–22 years old.

Think about how many times your dreams and hopes may have changed along the way, by either your increasing self-knowledge or perhaps due to the difficult learnings of life.

Remember the anchors and touchstones that helped you get through some of the tough moments- who was there with you, who could you lean on, and how was God part of that for you?

Our students are in the same place in their lives, even amid this historic global and cultural time.

Archived photo from Marquette move-in

Our students are growing into who they are called to be at this season in their lives.

  • They are learning to trust themselves; they are learning to trust others- some of whom may be helpful to their dreams, and some of whom won’t be.
  • They are learning how to make wise decisions and correct wrong turns.
  • They are learning about love and forgiveness and values and goodness.
  • They are learning about personal redemption and about deep compassion.
  • They are learning about who they are and who they are called to be in this world at this time.

As we know from living more seasons in this life, these learnings will change and grow over time.

If we allow it, God will continue to call us into new and deepening relationships with Love and with others to help us to serve with deepening wisdom and compassion.

Our students are learning about their gifts, and choices to use their gifts to care for themselves and their loved ones, and to contribute to the common good.

If we choose, this is also a wonderful time for us, as parents, to reflect on how we are using our gifts.

How is God calling to us today?

How are we using our gifts to serve our families and the common good?

While we may be letting go of one relationship and opening to a new relationship with our students, we can also engage in new relationships with ourselves, our spouses, our families, and our God.

We may notice a fallow space where the everyday parenting of our students used to live, and now that our parenting will be more removed, we will find ourselves with some space to live and breathe differently.

Our love for our children is as deep, and our appreciation for who they are will grow, but this space of generativity and life will remain with us- this empty nest, so to speak, is open to new living!

Bird taking flight
Photo by Vincent van Zalinge on Unsplash

For me, prayer has helped me to grow into that space.

To maintain peace and gratitude and love for our daughter and the young woman she is becoming, and to grow in awe for all the ways God has loved her, and us, into being at this season of life.

To know deeply that God has held her, and us, since she was just a dream, a hope, a prayer in our hearts.

To feel the ways that Jesus and Mary have assisted in teaching me to parent and to love her in healthy ways, and to learn how to heal my own heart to be more available to love and set free this being who is so similar and yet so different from myself.

All of this growing has been aided deeply by growing in my own love relationship with God.

By reading and reflecting on the scriptures each morning, and by imagining our daughter being held by Jesus and Mary- as they held so many others physically and spiritually- in the Gospels.

When I feel anxious about something my daughter is experiencing six hours from home, I can always ask Jesus and Mary to hold her close, to give her what she most needs for comfort at that moment, and to bring her peace.

These prayers are ground in the fruits of God’s blessings in our lives, and they do bring me peace and allow me to be my best self in parenting an adult daughter, one who is learning to grow into a caring, compassionate and intelligent adult human being who will bring goodness into her life and contribute to the common good.

Bible opened on an alter
Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

In Psalm 139, I re-remember that God has been with us since before the very beginning.

I re-remember that God has held me and my mother and her mother in the womb, just as God held my daughter as a dream and a prayer and a being in my womb.

God continues to hold my daughter each day, whispering love and invitation to her, reminding her of her goodness no matter what.

Every hair on her head is counted, she is formed and wonderfully made in this God.

This God delights in her, just as my husband and I do, and in this, I find great delight and comfort.

So, lean in, my fellow parents!

Lean in and pray peace and love and acceptance for our children, and for ourselves!

Even in these days when it seems so much is ever-changing, lean in, breathe, and enjoy the ride!

Wishing you every blessing along the way!