When I called the residential placement before we moved Nasko into his group home, I asked the intake coordinator what to send with him. I wasn’t sure what to pack or what he might need. While on the phone, she gave me a few suggestions, but eventually summarized by saying we should act as if he were moving to college.

At first, my heart sank at this analogy. He is nine. I technically should have another nine years before packing his room and kissing him goodbye. He has only been my son for four years. Most mothers get a full eighteen before their child moves out.

But the more I thought about this analogy, the more it resonated with me.

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I have not sent any of my kids to college (although Louie might be on the direct path to attending at the age of twelve), but I can imagine the feelings that mothers experience when their children make this transition:

Sadness

First off, I’m sure mothers of college-bound teenagers feel sad. I know I am sad to be missing the daily moments with my boy. I’m sad to no longer see him when I wake him up, and kiss him goodnight before bed. When he falls down and gets hurt, will his caregivers know not to rush towards him? Will they know his past trauma influences the way he reacts to pain? I am sad that my boy is unsafe and cannot live in our home with the family we have created for him.

I am sad that love was not enough.

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Helpless

As children move to college, moms wonder if their children are safe. There’s no more nightly check-in when the child comes home. Kids can take week-long road trips without even alerting their parents.

I, on the other hand, wonder if Nasko is eating enough. I struggle knowing he sleeps the best when he feels safe in our home, but can make himself stay awake for days in places that are unfamiliar. I feel absolutely helpless.

I know he will eventually get sick. When he is sick, he loves to have his forehead rubbed. I cannot give him the physical touch he desires when I am three hours away.

Freedom

I know parents who cheer and celebrate the status of being empty-nesters. No longer having to divide your mind and responsibilities in just one more direction is a relief.

I feel that same relief here. Nasko has gotten so impulsive and so dangerous, I couldn’t let a moment go by where I wasn’t sure of his whereabouts. I’ve trained my mind to subconsciously know where he is at all times. (I’m a hoot at dinner parties - guests randomly say, “Now! Where’s Nasko?” and I have about 95% accuracy. A hoot, I tell you.)

For the first three days Nasko was in placement, I was exhausted. I could hardly keep my eyes open. I think my brain had finally stopped tracking Nasko (a child who never sits still) and was attempting to rest after the past four years of being over-worked.

Guilt

I can only imagine college-student mothers experience a little bit of guilt when they eat at their children’s favorite restaurant without them. Or maybe they experience it when they take the first vacation without the children.

My guilt showed up around day three.

Absolutely no one will be surprised by this, but life without Nasko here is so much easier. Our daily routines are calmer. I struggle with feeling happiness in the relief that life is easier. Is it wrong for me to be happy when it means my son can no longer live with us?

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Pride

As we moved Nasko into the group home, there was an intake meeting. Twelve adults sat around the room and discussed Nasko’s needs and his level of care. Multiple team members looked us in the eyes and thanked us for preparing Nasko so well. He has the communication skills to communicate his wants and needs. He is so polite. He is charming and understands turn-taking, routine, and disappointment.

Nasko knows who Jesus is. He knows his need for a new heart and a new mind. He knows to pray in the name of Jesus when he is afraid. He understands the concepts of grace and forgiveness.

Above all these other emotions I’m feeling about moving my son out of our home, I have pride. I am so proud of how far my son has come. Just like the mother of a son leaving for college, I am proud we have prepared him well.

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