Graduation. That’s on many parents’ minds each May. It might be a college graduation, high school graduation, middle school graduation, Kindergarten graduation or even preschool graduation. Maybe it’s even a “graduation” from diapers to a big potty. Each one is a time of transition for both parent and child. Each one is often bittersweet.
Graduations of all sorts mean a child is moving onto something new, growing up, moving away from the parental nest just a little bit more. As parents, we face these transitions with mixed emotions often times. These are celebrations, no doubt, and yet there is often a wistfulness of seeing our children move ever closer to total independence from us.
Usually for our children, these transitions mostly look exciting and like an accomplishment bringing pride in themselves. Sometimes we forget that these transitions can be mixed for them as well. Each of those changes can be a little anxiety provoking as well as exciting. As proud as our kids are at achieving a new level, they may feel a twinge of sadness at leaving behind the latest childhood stage as well.
Around this time each year, my daughter (who is 8) often comes up with a random statement of not wanting to grow up any more than she already has. She gets excited by what’s next but there’s a part of her that recognizes she’s also moving away from something that feels secure, familiar and comfortable for her. We usually talk about what she feels like she might be missing as she grows up and also what she would miss out on if she didn’t get any older.
Sometimes we don’t want to talk about the challenging feelings that accompany these transitions because it may seem like we are betraying the celebration aspect. Sometimes we are afraid to admit what the challenging feelings actually are. One of the hardest transitions parents report to me is when that last child (or only) leaves home and there is an “empty nest”.
After a minimum of 17 years of parenting, it can be hard to shift your daily routine. Most parents of teens have started to experience periods of quiet around the house as their kids are off doing their own thing for longer and longer time frames. Of course, those quiet times are always punctuated by LOUD times as well: loud music, friends coming in and out making noise, doors slamming because “parents just don’t understand!”. Even so, the quiet that often descends upon a house when there are no more children in it every day can be unsettling to parents. Saddening. Maybe a little scary to the couple who doesn’t know how to relate to each other anymore.
Whether you are a parent experiencing the mixed emotions of your “last baby” graduating from diapers or graduating from college, I encourage you to embrace all of it fully. Allow yourself to have more than one feeling if it’s there. Talk to your partner or your friends if there’s no partner and get support where you need it.
All of parenting is a roller coaster ride. It’s the hardest job out there and you have to hang on for the ride most of the time. Sometimes we have to close our eyes and let the yell of fear out. It’s also joyful even as it makes your stomach flutter, so put your hands up in the air and give a happy scream once in awhile too. Your “baby” is growing up. Good job parents!