- Merrily Hope
So...they've graduated from high school...
You have been looking forward to and dreading this day, and even year, for a long time. You have anticipated the excitement of all of the awesome things that the senior year brings, and have worked to make it so special for her. Perhaps you can even remember the specifics of your senior year, and those feelings suddenly come bubbling back up to the surface. The excitement of all of the wonderful opportunities, the sadness of having to say goodbye to the people you have loved and bonded with over the last four years, the excitement and sadness of leaving your family, the nervousness of launching out on your own and the massive weight of wondering if you have made the right decision….these are just some of the racing thoughts our high school graduates are dealing with. And of course...I have to address the massive disappointment that came this year. All of those feelings are coupled with massive disappointments about proms, graduation ceremonies, grad nights, so many of the classic graduation events. As moms, we are feeling their feels. We can’t help it, even if we wanted to. But it’s ok to acknowledge our feelings too. Aside from the obvious gut wrenching disappointment that the graduating class of 2020 has to face, we have feelings of our own that we need to take the time to process. If we do, it will make the transition so much easier. It may seem easier to shove away the feelings of sadness, or pretend that we are ok, when we are really not. It is ok not to be ok right now! You are not alone. Two of my three have graduated, and it is not easy. For those of you whose graduates are not going far, do not feel like you have any less of a right to be sad than those moms whose kids are going far away. The fact that your child will not be living in your house, even if they are only 20 or 30 minutes away is sad. It’s ok to be sad. Maybe your child graduated and is going to live at home for a couple more years. Guess what. You can be sad too. Because things will be different. You’re entering a new chapter. It is exciting, and nerve-wracking, and sad. That’s ok.
I remember almost panicking. I am not done raising her! There are so many things I still have to teach her. What if she moves on completely, and I’m not an important part of her life any more? What kind of rules do I have this summer? She’s technically an adult and a graduate. I didn’t take enough pictures, or they are all scattered and I need a baby book now. Everything is going to be different, from now on. And on and on. Stop. Take a breath. Slow down. It will be ok. She will be ok. You will be ok. I promise.
The first thing I freaked out about was the fact that the clock was ticking and I was not done. This hit me at the end of junior year. So those of you with juniors, turning seniors...you’re allowed to be sad too, because senior year represents the last...of so many things.
So, at the end of the junior year, I started to freak out. This may be the time that I really started practicing what I preach about mindfulness. I wanted to soak up every single moment I could. I wanted to engrave it in my brain and enjoy it all. This is a good time for you to practice this too. So anyway, I was freaking out about all of the life lessons she still needed to learn. I’m not talking about how to do laundry, grocery shop or cook a meal. My kids had that down. They were not going to die on their own. It was more about the important life lessons that I couldn’t even predict yet.
Then one day I realized that just because she was done with high school, she was not done being my kid. I would always be here to offer advice and help and guidance. But then came the next worry...because that’s what I do...overthink...sometimes spiral, but definitely overthink. So the next thing I was thinking about was how to forge a relationship with an adult child, without overstepping, or being annoying. (As a side note, check out my future podcases, where I will be talking with a family therapist about creating healthy relationships with adult children.) But what I came up with to calm myself down was a simple plan. Just be authentic. I will always be here for them at any time of the day or night, with no judgement and 100 percent, unconditional support. Just like I had been. And yep, if I had a strong opinion about something, they were going to hear about it. I will always be here to help, the lessons will never end. Whatever plan you come up with, just honoring your feelings that you need a plan is a huge step. Take some time, go on a walk, and think about how you feel about your relationship changing.
I was also really worried that I would lose my connection. I’m the mom that knows the names of all of the kids friends and knows what everyone is up to. My kids know that the details that are important to them are important to me too. This is not to suggest that I was always up in their business. I respect that their lives are their own. I am not trying to be cool and trendy and insert myself into their business, but when they plunk down at the kitchen to table after school to tell me what Lillie said, or what Devon did today, I’m genuinely interested. So, when they headed out on their own, I knew I was going to miss that afternoon debrief. What I learned is that because I remained genuinely interested, they continued to share. I made an effort to remember the new friends I heard about and their new adventures. Again, we’ll talk more in September about letting them go, but I want to reassure you, the door is not closing, it’s just changing.
I get asked by some parents, how to structure the summer between graduation and college, or whatever is next for them. I can give you a few tips, but you have to work this one out on your own. Again, take some time for reflection. What is going to work for you, if they are still living in your house. In order to do this effectively, you have to quiet the noise! Do not ask yourself how your friend is doing it, or what you SHOULD do. Be very honest with yourself. Remember the values you wrote down last time? Do the new rules align with your values? This is a summer of trust. Trust your instincts, trust how you raised them, and trust them! Remember the first time they drove out of your driveway alone? That was gut-wrenching. But for me.. It was an exercise in trust. I trusted that my husband and I had taught them how to be a safe, defensive driver, I trusted in God to protect them, I trusted in their car to keep them safe, and I trusted in them. This summer is the time to trust. I didn’t have a rule book for the summer before launch. And even if I did, it would have been different for each of them. Our main rule was mutual respect. We would respect their independence and their need to stretch, and they would respect us. Again, how you design this summer is up to you, but my gentle reminder is that in a few months, if they are going away, they are going to be 100% independent. And if they are staying in your home, remember that they could be far away making their own decisions. Don’t rob them of that opportunity now.
This is also the perfect summer (and really their senior year) to make mistakes. My catch phrase, and the phrase that makes my kids make fun of me, is “What are you going to do about it.” This is the time for them to exercise their own problem-solving abilities, and also, a great time for you to start shedding the weight on your shoulders that you have to be the master problem solver. This doesn’t make you less valuable to them. It makes you valuable in a different way. Rather than suggesting what they do, you are gently pushing them to decide on their own. Don’t get me wrong! If they flat out ask for your opinion, give it to them, but see if you can get them to think about it on their own FIRST.
I think the important thing here is to be true to yourself. Realize that it is ok to be sad. It does not make you weak. But take the time to be curious about your feelings and investigate what is actually making you sad. Here’s a pretty cool quote by Pema Chodron...She says, “Take an interest in your pain and your fear. Move in, lean in, get curious; even for a moment. Experience the feelings without labels, beyond being good or bad. Welcome them, Invite them. Do anything that helps melt the resistance.”
My challenge for you this week is to lean into your sadness. By recognizing the actual triggers of your sadness, you can sit with them and soothe your heart. It is also the right time, right now to learn a little more about yourself and maybe a dream or two that you set aside. Don’t wait until you drop them off at the dorm to ask yourself what now, ask yourself now? And maybe put a little tweak on it. What now!?!?! Can become Well...what now? Pretty easily. You can do i
t. You’re not alone. You will be ok. Hang in there Mama!