Saying Goodbye to Children
September 6, 2017

“The household is the association established by nature for the supply of men’s everyday wants…”
Aristotle, Politics

Yesterday, with tears running in rivulets down my face, I waved as the car drove away. It was the second time in as many months that I have done this. Saying goodbye to one of my children.

A little while ago I wrote an open letter to my children about saying goodbye to them, every day when I go to work. But these goodbyes were different.

Now I wave to them as they are driving away, not vice versa.

Something in me tends to rebel, thinking “I didn’t sign up for this.” Raising children has many hardships, including that we cannot be together as much as we would like. But then there is saying goodbye, when they are leaving, in several different forms.

These goodbyes—my eldest, a recent college graduate left to start as a first grade teacher in Arizona (!), and my third child returned after summer at home to boarding school in Pennsylvania for his senior year—are anticipations of even bigger separations: separations that loom ever larger in my consciousness.

There is a part of me that simply wants to go back. I look at photos of when they (and we!) were all younger. Things seemed so secure, so unchanging. Sure they were always growing up; but they weren’t going away. Or so it seemed.

This gives me occasion to reflect yet again on what it means to have the privilege of being a parent. Somehow what parenting needs to have been from the start comes into clearer focus now.

Even though their very lives constitute the deepest natural joys my wife and I will have, nevertheless it has always been about them, about their happiness.

Upon marrying, a husband and wife immediately form a household, even before the children come. Yet the very nature of that household is formed from the start by the life-needs of our children. What does this mean then for the household when it starts to empty-out from the elder end of the children? I am not completely sure.

But a couple of things I do know. The very suffering of separation can bear fruit in our lives, strengthening each of us in our journeys. And just as the pains of my leaving for work necessarily had their meaning and purpose in what we shared together in our home, so the pains of our children leaving likewise have meaning in great goods that we can still share. Even if, for a time, it is from afar.

Aristotle (384-322 B.C.), student of Plato, tutor of Alexander the Great, has been considered by many to be the greatest ancient philosopher. The Politics is his major political work, in which he includes a consideration of the household.

Image: by Adolph Tidemand (1814-1876)

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  1. Hi Dr. Cuddeback! I love this reflection. We are a little farther along in life, so we are mostly ’empty nesters’. Ours have left and are pretty much
    on their own, starting their own families. It is a wrench though, when they leave. But we know we have done a good job by them when they
    leave and can stand on their own, and hopefully practice their faith. Then grandchildren come, and a whole new adventure, sweeter in it’s own
    way comes along! God bless and keep you,
    Erin Archer

  2. I certainly have felt your pain, John, and I sympathize with what you are going through. But it’s true that such separations bear fruit – especially in terms of gently teaching us detachment from earthly joy – the joy exemplified by having our children with us. The natural evolution, from there, is a greater impetus to know and depend on the Lord for our hope and our dreams. It can be a hard transition, but is a necessary one, I think, for a child of God.

    1. I have felt this pain too, Roseanne, times three. And I agree with you that holy detachment is, at least in my life, part of my new horizon. Blessings. Thanks, John, and all good for you.

    2. Roseann, I really appreciate these thoughts very much. Thank you.

  3. this is so timely. but what about the child who leaves, now grown, but has no desire to really continue the family relationship–i can only hope it’s immaturity. there is pain here, too: the pain of loss; the pain of regret (“what did i do wrong?”); the ache for a reunion that keeps receding. this is a painful season.

    1. Dear Mollie,
      What a profound suffering. I am so sorry. I can only think this: by your maintaining an open heart you thereby continually send a message of love and welcome. Surely this message will be received, even if not yet for a time; and when it is, what special joy there will be. God grant all in this situation consolation and strength at this time.

  4. Beautiful! Thank you for taking the time to reflect, write, and post your thought on this topic.

  5. Thank You, John! After so many years….. I still remember your and Matthews visit to Salzburg. Regards from London,
    Titine Freely (Geusau)