The Nest Begins to Empty

grads-featured-w480x300As I was addressing my daughter’s high school graduation invitations last night, I began to reminisce about the journey my daughter has taken in life.  I find it difficult to put into words how proud I am of her: knowing her struggles, knowing her convictions, knowing her faith, knowing her success despite it all.  My sweet baby girl, so young and doe-eyed, is one of the most faithful young women I know; and she is ready to tackle life as a first year student in college.

As a college administrator, I know the struggles she may face in college.  I have seen the pitfalls, and the mountaintop experiences.  I have experienced those things as a first generation college student, desperately wishing I knew someone to help me navigate the experience; I have also experienced these things through other parent’s children – in my role as administrator.  Although it is not an in loco parentis profession, I always try to keep in mind these students are other people’s kids – their hearts – their joy – their babies.  This probably comes from my feminine center, where I am called to motherhood, both physically and spiritually.

But, nothing can prepare a college administrator for their first child’s trek into the college world.  For as much as I know I have to begin to give her those wings she so believes she is ready for, I am left lamenting the lessons I believe I have not gotten to, yet.

This is what I was thinking of when I was addressing those dreaded invitations.  The tears were running down my face as I was thinking of all we had shared over the years, including the highs and lows.  How will our relationship change now that she is heading to college?  How will we deal with those changes, and grow closer to one another and to the Lord?  I did not do so hot with my own mother at this time in my life; how could I do it differently with my own daughter (and now without my mother’s timely advice, as she prays for us from her Heavenly abode)?

I was reminded today that ultimately, our children at the most are on loan to us…they belong to the One who created them:  God.  They are made for specific purposes…undeniably written on their hearts by a Creator who loves them beyond their humanness, and has a Holy Will for their lives.

What I learned tonight is that my daughter is focused in just the right direction; and for that, I am grateful.  It’s like the #gratefultweets I so often see on twitter.  Mine might look like this tonight:

#gratefultweet:  For one of the most beautiful little girls in the world, Catholic Daughter’s scholarship recipient – Lizzie Red.  #blessed #mommalovesyou #waytogeaux

Elizabeth was awarded the local Catholic Daughter’s scholarship.  Of all the scholarships that could have been awarded tonight, this one had so much meaning for our family.  First of all, it reminds us that your intellect is only one piece of who you are:  your faith is everything.  Secondly, it reminds us that service done with a heart full of love makes meaningful impacts, and is the way the Lord wants us to serve others.  We are reminded of this week’s Gospel reading from Mass:

“I give you a new commandment:  love one another.  As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.”  (John 13: 24)

Thirdly, I am reminded of my chosen profession, which I consider part of a vocation.  In my role as college administrator, I will be welcoming a class of over 5000 students, only one of which is my own daughter.  I must provide high level services and programs to these young adults who are trying to make sense of a world that is changing a bit for them.  The transition from high school to college is a major one.  As both a mother and a college administrator, I am in a dual role this year.  I must remember all of the advice I have given parents over the years.

Below are a few suggestions I have for all mommas who have children transitioning into college this year.  I must remember to review the list as a mom this year.  If you have other suggestions, please feel free to join the conversation.  I will tackle this from my administrator hat, and not necessarily my momma hat; however, you might notice those hats begin to look similar in some of the suggestions.  Hmmm….I wonder why that is?

  1. Your child is about to enter a world of freedom:  they are now responsible to waking up on their own, making decisions to go to class or not go to class; go to Mass or not go to Mass.  In this new world, free will is tested.  This is overwhelming sometimes for an 18 year old.  Know that the foundation you helped to lay for your children is important, and faith for this generation of college students has been shown in the research to be a stabilizing force.  Where you can, find ways to reiterate the messages of the faith, doing so in adult conversations with your young adult children.
  2. Help your children find the Catholic center on campus.  Usually, these Catholic centers have so many activities, free food, and lots of support from young adults and Chaplains who have the faith development of your child first and foremost in their minds.
  3. Encourage your child to find the groups on campus who match well with the value systems of your child.  For example, on my campus, my area works with homecoming, student activities, student-led service events, and leadership development.  These students, from various backgrounds and cultures, provide a great place to nurture friendships, and participate in sober and fun ways, engaging with the university.  Activities such as these help to retain your kids from their first year to their second year, and they graduate on time when engaged this way!
  4. Encourage your children to solve their problems before you become involved.  This is where they “learn” to be young adults…part of that is difficult decision-making.  It is important, though to help them process those decisions.  So be sure to keep the lines of communication open.
  5. Remind yourself that the Lord is in control!  If mistakes happen, remember we have a faith full of HOPE, not worry.  Remember Romans 8: 28:  “We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”  I for one will be clinging to this verse for many years to come, as I learn to help my daughters’ transition.
  6. Bonus tip:  Please know that there are administrators like myself who will always support and respect your child’s faith development and expression, even at public institutions of higher education.

I am also reminded that the young Church is alive and well, and that this generation of young Catholics embrace the following:

“Let no one have contempt for your youth, but set an example for those who believe, in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity.” (1 Timothy 4:12).

Join me in praying:

Blessed Mother Mary, please take our children under your protective mantle, as they transition to college.  May it be a continuation of the faith journey they have begun as young people, and sustain them through the bumps on the road.  Please take our petitions to your Son, who refuses nothing to His holy mother.

Lord, we pray with all of our heart and soul, prayers of thanksgiving for all the moments of our children’s lives.  May they continue their journey of faith, knowing that You will never leave their sides, loving them unconditionally through their mistakes, shortfalls, and missteps.  May they know Your love all the days of their lives, and that they understand their education in light of Your Holy Will.  Please place administrators and students in their college days who will support and encourage their faith development.


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About the Author

Mary Wallace, PhD, is a devout Catholic wife of 20 years, mother of 4 daughters, and college administrator for 19 years. Mary obtained her doctorate in Human Resource Education and Workforce Development, and has a particular research interest in faith and work issues. Her dissertation contains research insight from women working in the public sector who bring their faith to work, and using it to inform their leadership. It is through this research that Mary was able to start the blog, The Working Catholic Mom (www.theworkingcatholicmom.com).

Mary is also the co-host of a Catholic radio show: Faith and Good Counsel, on Baton Rouge Catholic Community Radio. The radio show is focused on women living full lives of faith.

As a college administrator for over 19 years, Mary has worked with a wide range of young adults. Spending the first 14 years in the college housing industry, she has a knowledge and experience of working with complex environment, large staffs, and multi-million dollar budgets. Using this knowledge, she has led numerous staffs through strategic planning processes, performance management, training and development, and developing human capital. Her current role focuses on student leadership development, service/volunteerism, and general involvement on a college campus. Mary approaches her leadership with faith as a foundation, though her employment has been mainly with public institutions of higher education.

In 2002, Mary became the main wage earner in her family, when her husband, Steven, became disabled as a result of a traumatic brain injury after a ruptured colon left him sceptic and in the hospital for an entire summer, followed by a year of neuro-rehabilitation. The Wallace’s focused on their faith, and discerned each step of a new journey, full of Christian suffering and joy. During this time, Mary was thankful for her education, and God-given skills and talents to work, and to earn an income to support her family. This is also a time Mary learned to bring her faith to work, in a way that integrated her faith and leadership approach.

Mary’s work brings her great joy, but the greatest joy she has is through her faith and her family. She is a devoted wife, and mother of 4 daughters. It is this role that Mary feels her best leadership shines. She spends lots of time in service with her church, and volunteering for different youth events with her children. Mary is an avid reader and writer, and focuses her reading attention on women’s interest in the Catholic Church, with particular interest in Blessed John Paul II writings and philosophies about women. Mary also enjoys dancing with her girls in her living room (when no one is looking), and cooking simple satisfying meals for the entire family and all of their friends.

Mary is available to speak to your group. Check out ICL's speaker pages for her topics and to book Mary.

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