For thousands of high school seniors and parents across our area, graduation season signifies both endings and beginnings.
Is graduation merely the closing of one door and opening of another, or is it a time to reflect and connect with one another in a deeper way? Preparing for my youngest son’s graduation is bittersweet as I remember our journey together and embrace new roles and adventures the future might hold.
That does not necessarily make the transition surrounding his impending graduation easy or painless. Graduation is a marker – a moment in time that forever defines us as parent and child. What we do with the reality of graduation may determine the success of the transition. Accepting the ending and uncovering the beginning is critical to the health and well being of our parent/teen relationship before, during, and after graduation. Understanding our differing perspectives and empathizing with one another’s feelings of loss, sadness, excitement, and joy will help us align expectations and strengthen our relationship.
“Traditions and celebrations like graduations provide a rite of passage from one season to another. Symbolic moments serve as spiritual, relational, and emotional transitions to highlight parts of our lives we can let go and aspects of our future we can grab onto,” says local Clinical Family Therapist Laura Demetrician.
Parents and students may struggle to reconcile graduation. Some teens describe graduation as the most exhilarating and terrifying time of their life. Parents relate to times they also felt excited to end one chapter while unsure about what the future would hold. Hindsight helps smooth transitions. Students process graduation through their limited experience, which may unleash exuberance and fear simultaneously.
For students, graduation may mean the end of comfort and security. Some students find themselves ending their reign as the proverbial big fish in a little pond. Others fear losing the identity so carefully hewn within the safe borders of their school. Many students fear taking responsibility for their lives after high school.
Some teens call this uncertain phase of life adulting. The urban dictionary defines adulting as a verb; to do grown up things and hold responsibilities that makes one seem grown up. The transition from high school to adulting will come easy to some students and prove difficult for others. The same is true for parents.
It has been said that parenting is the only career, when done with excellence, that leads to unemployment. Seven out of ten mothers of adult children report feeling lost or depressed when their children graduated and left the nest. Parents have invested approximately 157,000 hours parenting their graduating seniors. That is a lot of time, energy, and purpose to come screeching to a halt during one commencement ceremony. A plaque on my desk from ancient poet, Rumi says, “Life is a balance of holding on and letting go.” I keep reminding myself of this as I seek to laud my son’s accomplishments and peacefully move into my new role – less caregiver, more mentor.
One of my favorite quotes from the Old Testament was written by the Prophet Jeremiah, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
Parents and students can trust in that simple truth. We can also find comfort and wisdom from that great philosopher, Dr. Suess: “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”
Whether you are a graduate beginning a new phase of life as an adult, or a parent letting go of the role you have held closely for 18 years, remember, our endings and beginnings hold a special place in this crazy world. When we embrace our goings and comings, we find they blend beautifully into this amazing process called life. And when it is all over, moments in time like graduation ceremonies may become the memories we cherish most deeply.
“This is not the end, this is not even the beginning of the end, this is just perhaps the end of the beginning.” -Winston S. Churchill