I left my newborn baby home alone. My three-year-old and four-year-old crossed traffic in a big city all by themselves. I put my six-year-old on a plane with a handsome, bearded man.

Well, not exactly.

But it sure feels like that sometimes. I’m wondering where the past 20 years have gone. When did these little people grow up? In reality, I left my 20-year-old home by himself, watched as my 23-year-old and 24-year-old headed across the street in Nashville to go exploring, and waved as my 26-year-old boarded an airplane, alongside her husband.

Yeah. It just feels weird sometimes that these adult people don’t need me like they used to need me.

Some time ago, I was walking out of Kroger and heard a familiar directive from a young mother. “Stay close.” She cautioned, as her energetic son, who looked to be about five years old, skipped ahead. An infant peered at her from the confines of a car seat perched atop the buggy. The young woman’s ponytail swung back and forth as she tugged her ball cap down tighter. She was a mom on a mission with places to go and things to do…and with little ones who needed her.

I climbed into my vehicle, glancing at them one more time. The baby was safely tucked inside the van, and the mom was helping the little boy into his seat. Memories raced across my mind. Wasn’t I her just last week? A young mother, corralling and cautioning my own little ones. When I was changing diapers, scaling Mt. Laundry, running on little to no sleep, I felt the days would never end. Naptime could not come soon enough. But as the birthdays came and went, diaper bags disappeared, and braces appeared. First jobs were obtained, driver licenses triumphantly awarded, and college classes started. It happens at the speed of light. Not really, but it sure feels that way when you are on the other side of sippy cups, sleep deprivation, and sloshing through daily school assignments.

As I pulled from the parking lot that day, a sadness for “days gone by” lingered momentarily but was soon replaced with a clear understanding and acceptance that my children still need me, just in different ways now. They tie their own shoes, fix their own meals, decide when they go to bed and when they wake up. The job of “raising” them is finished. However, the task of guiding them remains.

I’m learning to tread lightly in some places while avoiding other areas altogether. My opinion is not always needed. Go figure. This season of life…well, it’s different. I must get used to the idea that they don’t have to ask my permission anymore. They have to get used to buying their own groceries.

It has been a time of adjustment for us all. I still receive requests to accompany them to the doctor or go to lunch or sit and talk. They don’t have to call me or include me, but I’m happy they do. They are my friends now, as well as my children, and I genuinely enjoy their company. It’s exciting to see what God has planned for each one. As they step out and embrace their adult lives, my “momma heart” skips a beat. I often want to hold on and say, “stay close.” At the same time, I know they must go. God has plans for each of them. He’s grown them up into young men and women of faith. I will continue to pray for them and remind them: Make wise choices. Take care of each other. Love your Jesus. Stay close.

Oh, and wash your hands.