An Open Birthday Letter to my Mother


Happy Birthday! You’re 49 this year right? How strange it must be to have a son who looks older than you. Well instead of the typical Hallmark card that anyone can buy, I thought I’d write you something that anyone can read.

When I talk to people who grew up in particularly troubled homes, as I seem to do all of the time these days, I am grateful to be able to say otherwise. When people lament their broken or dysfunctional families, I am grateful that mine was otherwise. Although Mark was nearly always sick it seems, I don’t remember our family being in constant crisis about his health. We were so often happy like a family should be. I am thankful for the stability and security you provided for during what could have been traumatic times. Of all the gifts a mother can give her son, the gift of presence is perhaps the most lasting and influential. Thank you for always being there.

I know your own childhood wasn’t easy, and for that matter your adulthood hasn’t always been particularly easy either. But you’ve always believed in me, supported me in what I have done, encouraged me when times were difficult, and believed tirelessly that I could do anything. It’s become almost cliche to say that these are things mom’s should do, but you have done them consistently, and I am grateful.

Only now do I have some idea of how difficult it is to be a parent. From colic, to carpool, to cooking and cleaning, to college costs, to grandchildren, I am learning the challenges of being a parent through the years. So thank you for showing me the way, for your faithfulness to our family, and for your consistent dedication to being a great mom. I love you, and Happy Birthday.



Leaving Home for College: Part One (for parents)

This is the time of year that students and parents attend college orientation, an exciting time for students but a tearful time for many parents. As a campus minister, I’ve spent over 15 years helping with college orientations and I have occasionally thought that parents were a bit melodramatic about saying goodbye. All that changed last year when my first offspring left for college himself.  I found the experience gut-wrenching, not because I was worried about him or his future, and certainly not because I wanted him to stay home. I just felt the grief associated with the end of that stage of our relationship.  So based on my experiences, here are a few things I’ve learned about saying goodbye.

For parents:

  • Let go. I know this is such a blinding flash of the obvious that nobody will say it, and that’s why I need to say it.
  • Don’t hover. Agree to mutually acceptable levels of contact by phone, text, social media, visits, etc.
  • Be patient. Your student is probably not as ready as he/she thinks. He/she will make some surprisingly silly mistakes.
  • Be realistic. Your student is probably more ready than you think. He/she will make some surprisingly good decisions.
  • Embrace this stage. An adult-to-adult relationship with your son or daughter is a deeply satisfying and rewarding thing.