Day 2 (Last week, I wrote about cairns, the small piles of rock used to mark hiking trails. The cairns provided a metaphor for spiritual truth, and also gave me a clear picture of some truths about parenting).

Our hiking trip through the west ended in Los Angeles, 2000 miles from home, where my daughter is now attending college. My son, age 16, is still at home, but incredibly independent. He’s now driving. He cooks for himself when necessary, does his own laundry. My role as a parent is shifting.

On one of our hikes, my daughter and I saw a young couple with an interesting backpack, designed with a small seat between the pack and the hiker’s back for a child to sit. They carried their daughter, who appeared to be about three, all the way up the long hike. We admired their physical strength, to not only hike but carry a child up the mountain. And in certain seasons, that is appropriate. Eventually, our children get stronger and big enough to walk beside us, often holding our hands.

But imagine if I said—that backpack is such a good idea. I’m going to get one of those, slightly larger, so I can carry my 18-year-old on my back. To keep her safe, and near.

As ridiculous a picture as that brings to mind, it’s how many parents do it—at least figuratively. We think, “Dangerous hiking ahead? Oh, no!”

As we get to the teen years, it is time to let them walk themselves—even to hike without us. It is quite possible that they could twist an ankle or get lost. But we have to trust that we’ve done our job. The path jmay be dangerous, challenging. That’s okay. Challenges forge our character. Watching our kids handle challenges can actually help us to grow in our trust of them, and of God. I am being formed spiritually these days by letting go.

Eventually, we will simply build cairns for our kids, providing pointers but not specific instructions. We let go of directing, of controlling, and simply point the way, trusting them to walk in it. Trusting that God is in charge of our life and theirs. Rejoicing in the accomplishment they will feel when they are able to navigate the trail on their own.

My very wise friend Pam describes it this way: when they are small, our job is to protect: like those parents with their toddler in the backpack, who didn’t want her to wander off the steep trail. As they get older, the balance shifts slowly from protecting to equipping–giving them more freedom, but also more responsibility. Someone who equips another is a coach, an encourager. One who gives advice but reminds you: I believe in you, and you can do it. In this season, we are equipping our kids to navigate the trail themselves.

What are you doing to equip the people you love?