We Raise Our Kids to Leave

It’s that time of year when a lot of parents are preparing for their children to leave. The summer is over and it’s time to go back to school. And regardless if it’s kindergarten or college, the emotions are the same. We’re sending someone we love out into the world—a world that doesn’t love them like we do. But despite the sadness and excitement, it’s important for us to remember that we raise our kids to leave.

When my son, Matthew, Jr., was born, my best friend sent me a song by Brad Paisley called, Anything Like Me along with a note that said, “Congrats, Senior.” The song tells the story of a dad who finds out that his first child is going to be a boy, to which his first thought is, “Heaven help him if he’s anything like me.”

I sat there and listened to that song on repeat, tears streaming down my face, as I soaked in the reality that God had given me a son. Although he was only a week old, his life flashed before my eyes as I saw him growing up. It seemed unfair almost, to watch him leave.

Toward the end of the song, a few lines wreck me to this day because it is so reminiscent of my own journey of leaving home after college. Deep down, it’s prophetic of a future moment that my wife and I will all have to face when our own children leave.

“He’s gonna love me and hate me along the way
Years are gonna fly by I already dread the day

He’s gonna hug his momma, he’s gonna shake my hand
He’s gonna act like he can’t wait to leave

But as he drives out
He’ll cry his eyes out
If he’s anything like me”

Here I am, crying again. Six years ago, I held my son in my arms thinking about this moment and now I’m actually having to live it. Next week, Matthew, Jr. takes a big step in his own journey as he starts Kindergarten.

The First Day of School

There are countless emotions that accompany parents as they send their kids away to school for the first time. As many friends attest, the feelings reemerge with each new season: middle school, high school, college. Whether it’s fear or sadness or sheer joy, it’s an interesting thing to watch your kids grow up. And each year, the first day of school symbolizes the ongoing narrative that, no matter how much we want to, we can’t stop time.

My wife and I have stayed busy this summer to avoid the reality that our oldest will finally begin public school. Every time I bring it up, my wife changes the subject because she’s just not quite ready to let him go. Neither am I.

There’s an innocence in his six-year-old eyes that will be lost once he steps out into the world on his own. It happened to us when we went to school. There are words and actions and conversations that we have shielded from his young mind that he’ll now have to experience. There are bullies and broken hearts and bad grades that we would rather avoid. But that’s not how this works. If we hold those we love too tightly, we actually cripple the growth they’re supposed to experience.

Last night, we went to Matthew’s Open House to meet his teacher and his classmates. He held tightly to my hand as we walked through the campus. I know what it feels like, buddy. It’s hard to let go. But letting go is what you were created for.

We Raise Our Kids to Leave

No matter the emotions and no matter what awaits, we raise our kids to leave. As much as we think that they’re our kids, they’re not. At the end of the day, they’re God’s kids first. We just have the incredible privilege of being their parents.

How incredibly selfish of us to keep our kids’ awesomeness locked away in the confines of our house and our protection. The truth is, the world needs our kids’ awesome. Your kid has something amazing to share with the world. Don’t hoard it for yourself. Cultivate it, grow it, and send it out.

Your job as a parent isn’t to protect your kids from the world, but rather to prepare them for it and encourage them to make it better. In the end, the best way to fight bullies and broken hearts and bad grades isn’t to avoid them, it’s to face them head on. Loving our kids well means allowing them the freedom to take their own steps. Anything short of that isn’t love at all.

Today, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t sad watching my son grow up. But I’m going to choose a different emotion. I’m going to choose joy. I’m excited for Matthew and I’m ready for him to share his brilliance with the world. The world needs it. He’s a good kid with a huge heart that the world will step on from time to time. No doubt, it’s going to be a challenge, but it’s one that he’s ready for. And no matter what, as his parents, we’re right there with him.

Legendary coach at NC State, Jim Valvano, said:

“My father gave me the greatest gift anyone could give another person, he believed in me.”

Parents, if you give your kids nothing else, give them this gift today: Believe in them.

Then, let them leave.



Listen to This Post on the Whole Life Matters Podcast

About the Author


Matt Ham and his wife, Liz, have four kids and live in Wilmington, NC. Matt’s first book, Redefine Rich, is chalk full of inspirational stories aimed at reshaping the way we view our legacy. To order a copy, click here.

Matt is also the co-host of a radio show called Wake Up Our Faith with Zondervan author, Kevin Adams. Matt and Kevin have cofounded a faith development organization called, YouPrint. Check it out here.

At YouPrint, our mission is to help people uncover their “Why”, thrive in their gifts, and live the life of impact they were created for.

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  • Jill Barlow

    My children are all teenagers. (18, 16, 14) I wish someone would have talked to me about the seasons they all go through. I am closer to mine leaving now than I ever was. It’s not easy but it’s so worth it. Right now, my middle son does hate me. He’s 16 and in that rebellious stage where I’m the dumb mom who knows nothing. I didn’t experience this with my older son, and we are fairly close. I know that one day, my middle son will look back on this time and regret his behavior..but it’s something he has to deal with. I love being a mom! It was my calling in life. You seem to be a great dad and your wife seems to be an awesome mom. You two are blessed with your four. I pray MJ enjoys kindergarten.

  • With two boys of my own, now young men it is tough to watch them fly own their own. But thankful despite my failings they turned out OK – Loved your statement – “The truth is, the world needs our kids’ awesome.”

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