Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

A letter to my son as he leaves for college

By Deborah Mitchell, Special to CNN
March 28, 2014 -- Updated 1746 GMT (0146 HKT)
Deborah Mitchell poses with her son, Nick, when he was 6 months old.
Deborah Mitchell poses with her son, Nick, when he was 6 months old.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • iReporter Deborah Mitchell wrote a letter to her oldest son, who will soon leave for college
  • She offers some "unofficial commandments," in case he needs reminding
  • First, "Don't hold onto hurt or anger or people you don't love or who don't love you back"
  • Mitchell: "Offer a firm handshake. Show up on time. Help out. Be present"

Editor's note: Deborah Mitchell is a writer in Texas; her book, "Growing Up Godless: A Parent's Guide To Raising Kids Without Religion," will be released by Sterling Publishing in spring 2014. Her previous iReport about raising her children without religion was among the most-viewed iReports of all time, and she blogs at Raising Kids Without Religion.

The older of her two sons will be a freshman at a private liberal arts college in Texas. She first shared this essay on CNN iReport.

(CNN) -- Already the days are getting shorter, nature's signal that everything must come to an end and begin again. It's almost here -- the freedom you have longed for all year and the day I've dreaded for months, perhaps, even, since the day you were born. As a parent, you quickly realize that life is one long series of letting go: watching your kid crawl, then walk, then run and then drive away.

There will be the physical distance once you leave, of course, but the emotional distance will hurt, too. Boys, I know, grow up and are absorbed by the world -- by careers, friends and wives.

In less than a month, I'll release you, like a falcon, into the future. Where and how high you fly will be completely up to you. You won't see me cry -- I won't burden you. But I can barely write this now without laying my head down on my desk and crying for all the happy childhood memories that will never be experienced again and for all the things we meant to do but didn't.

I remember sitting in the dirt with you at age 3, watching the tractors clear the field behind our house. You were fascinated then -- as you still are -- with motors and machines. I remember every tennis match you played, teaching you to snow ski at Copper Mountain, your delight at snorkeling in Cozumel and your fear on the Rock 'n' Roller Coaster at Disney World.

Have a personal essay to share with the world? Submit it to CNN iReport.

Watching you learn and grow has been one of the greatest experiences of my life. Now you will have one of the greatest experiences of your life, and I hope that you will remember these unofficial commandments for the journey ahead of you:

1. Don't hold onto hurt or anger or people you don't love or who don't love you back. My great-grandfather used to tell me, "Worry will kill you." So will hurt and anger. Nothing grows more malignant with time than bad feelings. Let go of people and experiences that have caused you pain. Move on and live in peace.

2. Take chances. As parents, we spend so much time and effort trying to protect our kids that we take away the chance to learn from mistakes, to grow from failure and to build confidence through success. For years, I've told you to be careful, but I was wrong. So start now -- it's not too late. Take flying lessons. Start that business. Ask out the girl in class, even if you're afraid of rejection.

3. Same-sex marriage, abortion, health care and religion: Don't vote into law or argue with others about choices that are not yours to make. On the other hand, help pass laws that promote fairness.

4. You are in no way obligated to follow in the footsteps of either parent. Although I've brought you up free of religion, as you make your way through college and learn more about science and history and philosophy, you may find that life with God is better than life without. The choice will be yours. I will be proud of you no matter where you land on the spectrum of belief.

5. Whatever you do -- please -- remember that every text you send, every e-mail you write, every picture you post, can surface later, at any time. Don't be a Carlos Danger. Don't let yourself down or your future spouse down.

Stay in touch!
Don't miss out on the conversation we're having at CNN Living. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for the latest stories and tell us what's influencing your life.

6. If you use a credit card, pay it off every month without fail. Continue to tithe to your future by setting aside $10 or $20 a week. Stick to your rule of waiting three days to make a purchase, which has helped you avoid emotional or impulse purchases. This will be important as you continue through college because these next few years will be some of your leanest, yet this is the time in your life when you can also build self-control and financial security.

7. Don't expect life to be fair, for things to even out in the end or to get your just desserts. Believing in these ideas can cripple your emotional growth. Life will be far less fair than what you have experienced at home. Things don't really even out in the end, and you don't get what you deserve. Sometimes you get more. Sometimes less. You're not entitled to anything except respect from others. You will have both home runs and strikes. Don't quit. Life does not reward natural talent or intelligence or beauty. You will be rewarded for a positive attitude, for your competence, but most of all, for your grit.

8. I saw a lot of academic dishonesty when I was an instructor, and I know you saw it as a student. If you take words, answers or even values from others, then you are nothing more than a receptacle. Don't be a container for everyone else's junk. Be your own work of art.

9. The underpinnings of treating others well is treating ourselves well, too, for we cannot give love and respect that we do not have. Don't hurt yourself with too much food or drink. Be the man who does the right thing, who is fair but also be fair to yourself.

10. These things you already know, but it doesn't hurt to repeat: Always look people in the eye. Offer a firm handshake. Show up on time. Help out. Be present. Your phone is not a person -- pay attention to those around you. Don't text and drive -- keep others safe, too. It's OK to discriminate as long as it's based on behavior. Don't be tolerant of disrespect.

I know you'll be searching for your own answers, but if you ever need an ear or a shoulder, have a question or a problem, I'm here. Always -- no matter how far you go in distance or time.

Even adults reach out. It's not a sign of weakness but of strength. Over the next four years, time will seem to go by faster than the previous four. Change comes more quickly and more dramatically. Enjoy every moment. There is no grand prize at the end of your life, no all-expense paid trip to utopia. This is your final destination. The prize is here, now, in every breath you take, every new friend, every kiss, every challenge, every exciting piece of information you discover.

What would you write in a letter to your child? What words of wisdom have your parents passed along to you? Share your thoughts in the comments, on Twitter @CNNLiving or on Facebook at CNN Living.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1957 GMT (0357 HKT)
The situation in Ferguson, Missouri, after the police shooting of an unarmed black teenager, throws America's problem with talking about race into sharp relief.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 0225 GMT (1025 HKT)
Mo'ne Davis is the first girl to throw a shutout in the Little League World Series. She's an inspiration, but will she change the face of the sport?
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 0036 GMT (0836 HKT)
There is a reason why when people post pictures of themselves during their middle school years on Facebook for "Throw Back Thursday," we all stop and take notice.
It could cost nearly a quarter of a million dollars to raise your child -- and that's not even including college costs, according to new government estimates.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 0409 GMT (1209 HKT)
From parent to son, uncle to nephew, there's a raw, private conversation being revived in America in the wake of violence in Ferguson, Missouri.
August 14, 2014 -- Updated 0150 GMT (0950 HKT)
Children sometimes get left out of our conversations about mental illness. The truth is, they suffer too.
August 12, 2014 -- Updated 2114 GMT (0514 HKT)
CNN's Kat Kinsman says that talking freely about personal mental health and suicidal thoughts can help others.
August 12, 2014 -- Updated 1726 GMT (0126 HKT)
morning person
Easy tips on how to improve everything from your dinner order to the song in your head to your career.
August 7, 2014 -- Updated 1733 GMT (0133 HKT)
The case of an Arizona mom who left her kids in a car during a job interview highlights the fluid line between bad parenting and criminal behavior.
August 6, 2014 -- Updated 1941 GMT (0341 HKT)
A children's book about gun rights has benefited from an unexpected boost in sales after it became the subject of a mocking segment on a talk show.
August 5, 2014 -- Updated 1505 GMT (2305 HKT)
Some campers and counselors keep the campfire flames burning with summer flings that become lifetime commitments.
August 1, 2014 -- Updated 1143 GMT (1943 HKT)
After letting her 7-year-old son walk from their home to a park to play, a Florida mother faces up to five years in jail for child neglect.
July 31, 2014 -- Updated 1536 GMT (2336 HKT)
Lindsey Rogers-Seitz, who lost her son in a hot car, hopes mandatory technology in cars and car seats will stop child death from heatstroke in cars.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1442 GMT (2242 HKT)
Not to mention your jeans, bras and pillows? Here's a definitive guide to keeping all your quarters clean.
Imagination Playgrounds have snaking tunnels, platforms and springy mats just like any other playground. But they're different in one fundamental way -- they're built by kids.
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1535 GMT (2335 HKT)
Grammy Award-winning singer Sarah McLachlan, a 46-year-old divorced mom of two girls, talks about parenting, sex and whether women can have it all.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1154 GMT (1954 HKT)
Researchers say physical punishment actually alters the brain.
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 2041 GMT (0441 HKT)
The case of a South Carolina mother arrested for allegedly leaving her 9-year-old daughter at a park while she was working sparks debate over how young is too young to leave a child alone.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1515 GMT (2315 HKT)
CNN's Kelly Wallace reveals 5 common parenting mistakes that many parents admit to making.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1244 GMT (2044 HKT)
Is it a bad idea for parents to let kids drink underage at home, or does an early sip make drinking less taboo? Studies are divided on the subject, which is a tough nut for parents to crack.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1404 GMT (2204 HKT)
Kids who takes cellphones to bed are not sleeping, says Mel Robbins. Make them park their phones with the parents at night
July 15, 2014 -- Updated 1840 GMT (0240 HKT)
Professional photographer Timothy Archibald uses his camera to connect with his autistic son.
July 14, 2014 -- Updated 1316 GMT (2116 HKT)
Do you wish you could outsource the summer cooking, cleaning, and camp planning associated with kids? Here are 5 ways to do it -- and why you shouldn't feel guilty about it.
July 15, 2014 -- Updated 1852 GMT (0252 HKT)
The death of a Georgia toddler in a hot car raises the question: should government or automakers get involved to prevent accidental deaths from heatstroke inside a car?
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 1504 GMT (2304 HKT)
It's not just the 'baby blues.' Postpartum depression affects about 15% of new mothers. Here's what one 'warrior woman' is doing to fight it.
Post your personal essays and original photos, and tell us how it really is.
July 3, 2014 -- Updated 1417 GMT (2217 HKT)
What does it mean to run "like a girl"? A new viral video points out that the answer changes depending on whom you ask.
July 1, 2014 -- Updated 2122 GMT (0522 HKT)
CNN reporter Moni Basu lived in the U.S. nearly 30 years before becoming a citizen. Here's what it meant to pledge her allegiance.
July 1, 2014 -- Updated 2107 GMT (0507 HKT)
Her daughter was cut from the team. Her son didn't get into that coveted honors class. It was hard but also helpful. Here's how one mom learned to find lessons in failure.
June 30, 2014 -- Updated 1556 GMT (2356 HKT)
The presence of transgender and gender nonconforming youth at NYC Pride March is latest effort to increase visibility of the transgender community.
June 26, 2014 -- Updated 2227 GMT (0627 HKT)
A new ad by the hair care company Pantene asks why women are always apologizing and raises the question of whether women say "sorry" more often than men.
June 26, 2014 -- Updated 0048 GMT (0848 HKT)
The American Academy of Pediatrics announced new guidelines this week urging doctors to tell parents to read to their infants and toddlers.
June 28, 2014 -- Updated 1227 GMT (2027 HKT)
David Martinez grew up thinking he was just an average American kid. When he learned he was undocumented immigrant, it made him re-examine his beliefs about Mexican identity.
June 23, 2014 -- Updated 1747 GMT (0147 HKT)
A new survey says that working fathers, like working mothers, find it hard to balance work and family.
June 20, 2014 -- Updated 1029 GMT (1829 HKT)
Jenny Mollen has no issue tweeting her breastfeeding. The new author talks motherhood and having a (more) famous husband
June 19, 2014 -- Updated 2120 GMT (0520 HKT)
Experts say "mean girl" behavior begins as young as elementary school. Here's how to prevent raising a mean girl.
June 13, 2014 -- Updated 2240 GMT (0640 HKT)
While dads today don't get the same respect and attention as moms, and are often depicted as clueless, they've come a long way, baby.
cnn, parents, parenting, logo
Get the latest kid-related buzz, confessions from imperfect parents and the download on the digital life of families here at CNN Parents.
ADVERTISEMENT