Growing in the Process of Goodbyes

Growing in the Process of Goodbye 16x9 ws



I’m almost ashamed to admit that this was the verse I claimed when our firstborn left for college 10 years ago this month.  


Psalm 94:19, 22  “When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul.  But the Lord has become my fortress, and my God the rock in whom I take refuge.”


He was our first to leave the nest, and since then 3 more of our 10 children have moved on, with another one partway out the door.  That means nearly half of our children are now gone from our nest!.  Has it been hard?  Oh my, yes.  But there have also been so many blessings along the way.  Bittersweet is truly the best word to describe the process.


What would I say to a friend to help her prepare for “the leaving?”  I’m not sure.  I don’t really have one simple word of advice, and not only that, I am so very aware that I am still learning myself.  The tried and true counsel…..”It is a process,” comes to mind, because it is.  


Each “leaving” looked very different….

~  Different because each one held a different place in our family and therefore left different holes.  


~  Different because they have very different personalities, strengths and weaknesses,  and therefore my concerns for each one of them was different.

~  Different because where they were going and what they were doing is/was different.  


~  Different because my relationship with each one was different.  


~  Different because I am learning, and hopefully growing, as I walk this road with each one.


….so I am, in a way, a different mom each time one leaves.


I love being the mom of this family but It has not been easy to experience changes to the family unit at home.  Not only is it difficult for me, but it is also hard for the siblings left behind.  In addition to dealing with my own sadness and adjusting my own heart to this “new normal” each time someone leaves, I counsel and comfort my other children who suddenly find themselves in a new role in our family… middles become oldests…and honestly, (and somewhat surprisingly), they haven’t liked it at all…. and the youngest don’t even have many memories of the oldest being at home.  Ouch.




When my daughter got married this past June, oh my goodness, there were so many emotions to work through.  She lived at home until she was 26 years old.  She and I are extremely close, and she is very close to all of her siblings. We LOVE her new husband.  We were thrilled for her that God chose to bless her with an amazing and godly young man who seems perfect for her, BUT that meant she was leaving us.   When they announced their engagement on Christmas morning, our 5-year-old burst into tears.  She is not prone to crying or fussing but she was truly heartbroken — because all she could see was that her big sister would be leaving.  She eventually came around just fine, but it did take time.


And as my young adult sons developed serious relationships with their girlfriends, the middle sisters sincerely struggled with it.  May I add…they are still struggling with it.  They feel like they are losing their (very fun!) brothers.  They are envious of the time that their brothers are now giving to “other” girls.  So……we talk it out.  It doesn’t fix it, but it acknowledges the very real struggle of letting go and allowing siblings to move on, just as one day, we’ll all be doing when THEY move on.




I don’t like it.  I liked our family just fine the way it was.  I loved having babies.  I have loved homeschooling and having everyone around me.  My kids have been a joy and a blessing (believe me, we’ve had plenty of struggles, but in general…..).  And I don’t like change.  But like it or not, everything is changing, and will continue to change and, as I tell the kids, it would be wrong to just mope around and be sad all the time over something that MUST happen.   Change is actually a good thing, a blessing from the Lord.  This is life!  This is what is supposed to happen!  You grow up, you leave home, and you follow the Lord’s leading in your life….be it work or marriage or missions or a combination of them all.




I think the way we prepare for our precious children leaving our homes and families is to prepare our hearts, as moms, to let them go with grace.   I can remember saying when my firstborn left….“I want to do this right.”  Ten years later, when my daughter got married, I said it again….“I want to do this right.  I want to send her off with joy, not tears.  I want to bless and encourage this new family unit, not drag her back with my sadness.”  I’ve had sons go to college.  I have had sons and daughters go off to work.  I’ve had sons and daughters leave for a time to go overseas for missions work.  I’ve had a son leave, come home, then leave again.  Each time, the leaving was done after prayer and with our full blessing, but it is STILL so hard to see them go.  My heart must be right with the Lord.


I want to let go well.  I truly do.  And I think we all do.  So for me (and herein lies my advice for you), I have to…


… choose to do what’s right, even when it is hard.  

… pray for strength to let go gracefully.  

… send off with joy.  

… encourage those leaving.


And most of all…


… PRAY for them.   




It really is true….we’ve done our work.  There is nothing else to add at this point.  They are ready. They really are! They know the Lord, and HE is the one guiding and protecting.  He always was, but now I see it in a whole new way.  I am now trusting their relationship with Him, totally apart from me.  


I want to trust them to the Lord who gave them to me for a season.  It is not easy. It takes dwelling on scriptures that speak to my particular concerns for each child (and I have these written down to refer to whenever I am tempted to worry). It means falling on my knees often to surrender, and re-surrender, each child.  It means reminding myself of TRUTH so that I do not live in fear or fret with anxiety over them once they leave.


As a child drives off to a faraway state for college, or flies off to a foreign country –  Psalm 112: 7-8  “He (the righteous man) will have no fear of bad news; his heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord.  His heart is secure, he will have no fear.”


When I worry if they will keep walking with the Lord once they leave home – Hebrews 6:19a “We have this hope (our hope in Christ) as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.”  And Hebrews 10:23 “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.”


And the verses that remind me that I am NOT to worry, but cast my cares on my Lord, and trust HIM – Philippians 4:6-7; Isaiah 26:3-4; Proverbs 18:10; and so many more.  I NEED them.  I NEED the Lord.




I believe it is not so much about the children leaving and whether they are ready, whether they will fly or fall, whether we can bear the change to our family….it’s about trusting GOD with our precious treasures.  It’s about MY relationship with the Lord.  DO I trust Him?  It is about giving whatever emotion pops up to Him.  It is asking Him to walk with me through whatever is going on.   It is teaching the children still in my home, also trying to figure this all out, how to put their hope and trust in the Lord and HIS plan for them and our family.  It is reminding them to rejoice with their siblings and not to dwell on the grief for themselves.  They still have an important place in our family, and they can serve the Lord in their new position in the family.


It really IS a process.  I decided 10 years ago that I wasn’t going to rush through it.  I want to learn to let go and grow old gracefully and joyfully.  I cannot say if I am doing it well or not.  I know I still struggle, (even this week!), but I no longer beat myself up for it…..I go to the Word and prayer to find out what God wants me to learn in this leaving.  How I can be the best “sender-off-er” for this child?  It is bitter (sad) at times, but it is also very sweet,…


as they choose friends, activities, life work, ministries and/or spouses, it is a huge blessing when they CHOOSE to seek out my husband and me for advice or counsel.  What a blessing and joy it is to get an invitation for a lunch, or a request to have some tea or coffee on the porch, or to set apart time for a “phone date” if they live far away, because they want to hear what we think on some important topic or about a big decision.  It’s the fruit, and it is oh so sweet!  It is God’s work.  To Him be the glory!!!


“I have put my hope in your word..” “You are my refuge and my shield; I have put my hope in your word.”Psalm 119: 81, 114



VanderHaeven Family
VanderHaeven Family
Follow Debbie Van der Hoeven:
Pete and I have been married 30 years. We met at church in Charlotte, NC, and lived in that area until we moved to Kentucky in 1989. We were introduced to GKGW, through our church, about 2 years after we moved to KY. Our oldest two children were 4 and 2 at the time. We learned Prep during my pregnancy with our 3rd he was our first Prep baby. We have 10 children. Our oldest, Luke, is 28, and has been married for 5 years to his sweet wife, Katie. They met in college (Cedarville University in Ohio), and have given us our 2 precious granddaughters, whom we rarely see because they live in Bluffton, SC. This is a sadness, but we know God has us all where He wants us, so we try to accept that and just enjoy the times we do have together. Our daughter Hannah is 26, and has been married to Anthony since June 2015! They live in a nearby town right now, but Anthony is a pilot and plans to go into mission aviation so I suspect there will be many more goodbyes in our future. While single, Hannah spent time in Kazakhstan and Nicaragua. Our next son, Tyler, is 24. He lives in an apartment in a nearby town, and works from his home, in computers, but is also interested in missions. He attended a year of missionary training school, and has also spent time in Mongolia and Thailand. He is dating a girl from Florida and will likely be relocating there in the next few months. More goodbyes. Sam is 22 and is a senior at LeTourneau University, in Texas. He is engaged to Emily and they will be married in May, 2016, after they graduate. Grace is 20, and still lives at home. She recently got a full time job at the new, local Panera Bread and she's loving it. Abbie- 18, Kate - 16, Carrie - 14, Hope - 10, and Selah - 6 all still live at home.
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