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Take Comfort, Parents of Graduates, the Best Is Yet to Be

by on June 02, 2017 4:30 AM

Last year at this time, I was caught up in the craziness of high school graduation. My twins had made it. Yes, lucky me, I got two for the price of one. (Actually, it was two for the price of two, but all at once.)

We had survived the college selection process and the senior farewell events. I was keeping the tears at bay as I held on for graduation and the last of everything over the summer. I knew the floodgates would open as I dropped them each off at their new schools. One was headed 600 miles south, the other nearly 500 miles in the opposite direction.

As parents, there’s this build up toward, what seems to be, the final event. It starts almost immediately from the time they are born. How will we ever let them go?

We are fascinated by everything they do as babies. The first smile, the first wave, the first time they crawl. We are overwhelmed with pride and joy, and we want to hold on to it forever.

It all passes by so quickly, and we realize the day will come sooner than we want when we have to let them spread their wings. That is, of course, if we do our job as their parents to help them to become mature, capable and independent individuals.

Senior year feels like a ticking bomb. As though if we take one misstep, it will all crumble and they will be gone before we say goodbye. We savor every moment -- every tradition, every family dinner night, and every time they allow us to give them a hug. It feels like the last of everything.

Our kids, being the mature, capable and independent individuals we hoped they would become, don’t always want to humor us in our desperate moments as parents. They are ready for the change. They are ready to take on the world. Sure, they might be scared, but we’re the last people they want to see that. They remind us frequently that they can’t wait to get away.

It’s all part of the process, I was reminded frequently. It’s how they cope with the unknown, and more importantly, how they help us to accept that they are leaving. Despite the sadness, there’s only so much senior rebellion a parent can take. Somehow, we start to see that there might be light at the end of the tunnel.

And, truth be known, there is.

Yes, I shed a lot of tears as I drove away from each of my children last summer. In fact, I may have cried most of the 1,100 miles combined I drove home. It was just as emotional as I anticipated. That is, until the next day.

You see, after I left my second child at college, my life went on. I woke up the next morning and was still functioning. My youngest child was still at home. And, the dog still needed to be walked and fed.

As the day went on, I spoke to each of my college kids. I’m sure we also texted at least a few times that day, and the next. My daughter called or texted quite often. My son, not so much, but I knew that meant he was doing OK. That was the important thing; that he was happy.

Three or four weeks later I visited my daughter down south. My son met me at his grandparents’ one weekend, not too far from his campus. Their dad also went to see them each once or twice. And, we continued to communicate nearly every day.

With my twins away, life was simpler at home. Balancing the activities of one child was far less crazy than doing so for three. Sure, there were times when their little sister and I sat around yearning for their presence. And so, we’d FaceTime one, or the other, and all would seem right again.

Before we knew it, it was Thanksgiving. Then winter break. We were all together. All back to the way it used to be with sibling rivalries, constant bickering and me counting the days until school started.

There were differences, too. My first-borns were adults now, finding their way in the world. They had experiences that didn’t include me. New opinions that differed from my own. And, they had friends whom I have never met.

Years earlier these things may have sounded dreadful as I begrudgingly anticipated the day they would go off on their own. Now, they made me proud. They made me realize that I had done my job. It wasn’t perfect. I know I could have done better. But, I had raised two children able to survive without me, and I really liked the people they had become.

Spring break came, more visits, and before I knew it, the first year was over. That was it. All of that dread, all of that worry about the day my kids would be gone, and before I could blink an eye, they were back.

That’s the reality. They come home. They will always come home, just like we do as adults with our parents. The time in between visits may get longer and longer. Much like when they were babies and spent every minute with us, to the transition to daycare, and then school. We learn to let go slowly, and every time it gets easier.

Many of this year’s graduates will also be going away to school. Others may be joining the military or taking a gap year. Whatever it is, it will be different. It will be a transition for the parents as much as it is for the kids. But take comfort in knowing that it’s not the end. It truly is the beginning of what is yet to be, and it may be the best thing yet.



Jillian Reese earned her B.A. (Advertising) and Ph.D. (Educational Leadership) from Penn State. She is a long-time resident of State College, and proud mother of three. Her column is purely her opinion and is based on her wide variety of professional and personal life experiences.
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