Letting Go When Your Child Graduates
A funny thing happened while I was busy living my life. My son grew up. How in the world did this happen so fast? How had I not realized it was coming? It seems I only turned my back for a second. I mean, sure; there were clues. He stretched out nearly as tall as his 6’4 father. His voice deepened. He started taking ridiculously long showers. And there were other telling signs.
Somewhere along the line, he got a driver’s license. A job. A girlfriend. His life started becoming separated from mine. I guess I was okay with all of that. I mean, that’s the natural progression of things, right? Even when he turned 18, I still didn’t see him as more than a high school student; a big kid. Until the day he enlisted in the Navy. He went and took the ASVAB test all on his own. He got right into the nuke program with his high scores. He worked with his recruiter to get his extensive physical done and even went downtown and got sworn in…all without including me.
Now I am facing his impending high school graduation with his inevitable ship out date soon after. I find the thought brings me to tears nearly every time I let it roll through my head. It isn’t that I’m not happy for him or that I don’t want him to go off and live the life of his choosing. It’s just that I struggle to wrap my head around the fact that one day this sweet, gentle, funny boy was mine, and the next he was his own person. A person with his own destiny, dreams, and plans; none of which (really) include me.
I’m certain that I must have been the same way when I was a teenager. I mean, I couldn’t wait to leave home! I wanted my freedom and the chance to make all my own decisions without anyone interfering or telling me “no”. This is a normal part of our journey into the adult world. However, what I had never considered is where this left my parents. It never occurred to me that it may have been hard for them. Now I know. That adult world I wanted so badly is hitting me squarely in the jaw and I reel from the blow of losing my boy.
But somehow, through the tears, the sadness, and the fear of loss, I know in my heart this is what has to happen. My job was to raise him and to instill in him all the qualities I hoped he’d bestow upon the world. I wanted him to be bold, smart, adventurous, independent. Obviously, I was good at my job because he became all of those things. His sense of purpose is evident in every choice he has made. Who am I to interfere?
I firmly believe that our children are given to us for our own growth as much as theirs. These souls come into our lives and it’s up to us, as parents, to help them to develop into the best version of themselves they can be. All while not standing in their way in the name of protecting them. It’s a tough thing to balance, alright. My own fears come out in the form of overprotectiveness, nagging, and groundings. I even went as far as to install a device in his car (although, he knows it’s there) so I can see where he goes, how fast, and for how long. I tell myself it’s for his own safety. Maybe the truth is, it’s for mine.
I’m sure many of you have felt the same way and do the same sort of things (and if not, kudos to you for not being a neurotic control freak). Guess what I discovered? It doesn’t stop them from getting hurt. It doesn’t keep them protected in a bubble. And it sure as hell doesn’t keep them from growing up. No, my friends, that is going to happen whether you like it or not. So, what is a desperate parent supposed to do as the day of their child’s graduation/independence nears? To be honest, I’m not sure exactly, but this is what I think:
- Take a deep breath, count to 10, and remind yourself that this is happening whether you go along for the ride or not. Better to be there and share in their joy then to miss it.
- Remember that they may be feeling some anxiety too (though, likely your stubborn kid won’t admit it). They may be looking to you to see how to handle it. Your strength helps to steer their feelings. Don’t let them down here.
- Keep in mind, this is NOT the end. It’s a new beginning. For them and for you. Great things lay ahead for you both, it just may be hard to see in the moment.
- Revel in their accomplishments. After all, your love, guidance, and support got them here; just like it was supposed to.
I still find myself struggling at the thought of a future that doesn’t include my son being part of my daily life, but I know I must find the strength to cope. He was a gift given to me for a purpose. To raise, protect, and help to grow into a valuable member of society. I have fulfilled that purpose and it shows in the amazing person he has become. He still has a million life lessons to learn and a multitude of rude awakenings and growth experiences. But these things need to happen without his mom. Of course, I will always be part of his life. I am always an ear to bend and a shoulder to lean on. But to complete the transition into manhood, he must stand on his own. He must go out and discover life. He must shine his greatness on the world. And he must do all of this by being exactly what I raised him to be- a strong, brave, independent young man. A man that I am proud to call my son.