So Your Kid is Graduating From High School… Listen Up.


So your child is graduating from High School? Mazel! Congratulations! Bravo! Way to go: parent and graduate! Graduation from High School is a big deal. It really is. But it’s taken me a few rounds to really appreciate that.

image: washingtonpost.com

image: washingtonpost.com

I remember when my first two kids graduated from high school, and Smart Guy and I were told by extended family members that high school graduation “wasn’t really that big of a deal.” It wasn’t something that cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents fly in for, or really even celebrate.  There were no cards, no gifts sent. At first I was disappointed, but eventually I accepted that idea, and figured maybe it was just an immediate family only thing— something you celebrate at home, with friends who also have kids graduating, or who have spent a lot of time with you and your kids. At the time, that made sense.

My Mom lived here at the time, so she attended Principessa’s graduation from High School. Papa flew in for Middle Man’s graduation. Grandma had died jut a few months before, and it was his first visit to see us, on his own, and was perfect timing for Middle Man’s graduation. Other than that, it was pretty low-key. We had an open house for our girl, but the boy didn’t want one. His classmates were in Canada; it would have been hard to pull off. There were special dinners together, gifts from us to them, and we all felt excited and anticipatory about the next phase. But there was little hoo-ha from the rest of our clan, and I figured maybe it wasn’t really as big as it felt to me.

Two High School and one College graduation later, and I see things a little differently. High school is a much bigger deal than some people realize— until they’re in the moment. High School graduation is the end of a lot of things, and the start of so many others.

It’s the end of your child’s time in schools that you (the parent) know, that you have been a part of too. It’s the end of a time when you know their teachers and the place they go each day. It’s the end of a time when you are invited in, to volunteer and be included. You have probably walked the halls, and met most of the people your children spend their days with, and there’s comfort in that. You’ve had your fingers on the pulse of their lives; and, there’s also comfort in knowing that you are part of your children’s world, in an intrinsic and crucial way. When they graduate from high school, that phase of their lives, and your’s, changes, forever. That is the part I really didn’t get, when we were going through it the first time(s).

When their dreams were of first grade.

When their dreams were of first grade.

As my daughter graduated, I was caught up in the fact that my first baby was finishing school here, and would be moving 4,000 miles across the country to start college. The idea that she would be so far away, not living in our home anymore, was what seemed central at the time. I hadn’t begun to imagine what was next, and I’ve since learned that the “next” is  what really matters. High School is the culmination of twelve years of schooling, again, where you are tied to your children on a daily basis. That phase started with walking hand in hand in to meet the teacher. The new phase will begin with watching them drive away, or taking them to their new dorm, and driving away from them. Even if you know you’ll see them, even if they’re going to school close by, that drive is one of the hardest rides of your life.

However, the next four years will bring changes so much bigger than the previous 12, that your head will spin! I thought I knew that going in, so will you. But, until you wake up four years later and face another graduation, it’s nearly impossible to understand just how different things will be. That may not seem to make sense: 12 years versus 4, but the four years after high school, the four years of college (if that’s the path your child takes) will take your child out into a world that you’re not really part of. You’ve raised your child (children) to go out there and set the world on fire, whatever that looks like to your child, but it’s hard to imagine that they really wont need to hold your hand anymore in that world. You wont be invited to roast marshmallows around that fire, and it isn’t your job to make sure the flames are tended, any more. It’s their fire. They will, from time to time, reach for your hand, but they wont rely on you the way they once did. They’ll be forging a new path, and you need to step aside a little and let them fly.

So how do you get through it? With a wish and a prayer. With lots of humor. With some distance: if you can’t step back from some things, you’ll be pulling your hair out. By taking a look inside—yourself. Yes, you raised your child to set the world on fire, but you don’t get to choose the fires. You don’t get to call the shots. If your child’s going to surf their own waves, you need to watch from the shore and cheer. You don’t get to surf too. You get through it by accepting that your lives have changed, and that you can’t go back. Doesn’t that all sound so practical? Doesn’t it seem like common sense? That doesn’t mean that it will feel easy or reasonable when you’re in it. If you’ve been a Mom for 18 years, none of it will feel easy or clear.

image: destinationsdreamsanddogs.com

image: destinationsdreamsanddogs.com

For the first time in your child’s life, you wont know where they are each night. You will have to adjust to sleeping in your own bed, not sure if they are tucked in and safe in theirs. They are.  You will not know what they are eating each night, or if they had a good breakfast before class. You wont know if they went to class. No one will call you if they miss that class, or if they eat a cheeseburger for every meal. You wont know what’s happening, unless they tell you… and they may not tell you everything. It’s the first time in their lives that they get to try things on and figure things out, without running to Mom and Dad, and that feels good. Trust me, they will be having moments of uncertainty too. But they will be excited to figure it out on their own.

You have some things to figure out too… you just don’t know it yet. It will build and wiggle around in your brain, until your final bird flies… then you’ll know that there are indeed things to figure out, that are about you, not them…  Your face, looks back from the mirror, so differently than it did when this ride began.  It’s all tied up in a complex tangle of years of kindergarten to high school, and favorite waffles. Of trips to the zoo, first play dates, and first sleep overs. It’s tied up in careers you left, or careers you kept. Marriages that have aged while babies grew, or marriages that ended. It’s woven to first crushes, proms and Homecomings, broken hearts (yours, theirs). How handsome or beautiful they looked in countless moments along the way. It’s tied to their innocent promises to never grow up and your hope that that might be possible. Knotted up in their sweet smells and their big stinky sneakers. The stuff left here and there and all over your house, and now gone.

These boots were made for walking...

These boots were made for walking…

Graduation from High School is the shift from everything that you’ve known, to everything that will come after– for you and for your children. There’s no way to know what the years after High School will bring, but it’s the beginning of an entirely new phase of life. So, as you approach graduation day, and the blur of a summer that follows, savor it. Enjoy it. In the weeks before they leave, find— no carve out– sacred moments when you are all a family. Enjoy those simple, ordinary moments. Your kids will have one foot out the door; it’s what they do. They’ll make it look like their friends are more important, and that you are so in the way. They will likely you make you wish they were gone. Really; it happens. Let it slide; shake it off; but, find those moments. Cherish them, the moments and the kids. Both will be gone before you blink.

When summer ends, they will pack their things and leave your home, and they will never come back as the child you watch leave. They’ll come home and sleep in their room; they’ll call to share some of what’s happening in their lives (especially in the beginning), but they wont be the kid that walks up to get that diploma. They wont be the same kid who leave in September. They’re on their way to being on their own… to growing up. Leaving High School, leaving your home, is their first step… and they’ve worked hard to get there. Smile, pat yourself on the back and know that you raised an independent child. You did your job. And then buckle your seat belt; the next four years will be an incredible ride.

Is your child graduating? Share your thoughts. Are you miles from this moment? Then file this away; you’ll need it later.

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If you enjoyed this post, please hit like and leave a comment; I love to hear what readers have to say.  Check out Tales From the Motherland’s Facebook page (my goal is 400 likes this year), and Twitter, where I struggle to keep it brief.

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About Dawn Quyle Landau

Mother, Writer, treasure hunter, aging red head, and sushi lover. This is my view on life, "Straight up, with a twist––" because life is too short to be subtle! Featured blogger for Huffington Post, and followed on Twitter by LeBron James– for reasons beyond my comprehension.
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48 Responses to So Your Kid is Graduating From High School… Listen Up.

  1. My niece just graduated, and I feel really lucky to have been there. It gave me a perspective on my own kid two years from now. It is exhilarating and terrifying, both for kid and parent. It’s the end of the visible safety net. I am glad I’ve got a couple more years before this big one. Because you’re right. It really is huge.

    Like

    • Wow, happy to see you here becomingcliche! Great that you shared that with your niece; I think it’s a special day to share. As for your own, it’s impossible to prepare. No blog, no advice fits exactly, what each of us will feel. It’s really is so big. Thanks for reading the post and sharing. Much appreciated! 🙂

      Like

  2. Lillian says:

    Finishing kindergarten was as much as I could handle this spring!! I read all of this and try so hard to absorb it and appreciate where we are right now – I know it will be gone before we know it!

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    • Oh Lillian, let me say this: it’s a blur, but when you’re in it, some days feel endless. We all miss those little people days when they’re gone, but so few of us are really able to see through the haze (exhaustion, self-doubt, finances, all of it) to really take in the moments. Enjoy what you can, and don’t worry about absorbing. WE all have our own journey. Regardless of what we absorb, it just hits you in the gut. Thanks for sharing, as always. xo

      Like

  3. Mike Lince says:

    I hardly remember my daughters’ graduations from high school. I think your mother’s perspective is much more closely connected to the school experience than was mine. However, I distinctly remember the college graduations. Maybe that was what I was focused on all along. And perhaps it was that high school was something less than great experiences for my girls that they were just relieved to put it in their rear view mirrors. I guess what I remember most vividly was the day they moved away from home, partly because I did much of the heavy lifting. – Mike

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    • I think that often, not always, it is a bigger deal for mothers… as so much of our role is tied up in the kids being home.You and I have shared some of these thoughts before Mike, so I know you get it. It’s true though, the day they move out, is memorable for all—regardless of how you paint it. Heavy lifting? Hmm, no doubt, you had a few misty moments. I just know it. 😉

      Like

  4. unfetteredbs says:

    Just survived my daughter’s first year away at college. Sigh… Good post.

    Like

  5. Congrats on the last high school graduation! Where is he headed? College– still felt like I knew where they were, had a sense of what they were doing, where they ate and slept. It’s this next stage, esp. w/ my daughter who wants to move to San Francisco that seems so scary to me. Yikes- all 3 kids are in their 20’s! It just seems we were in our 20s a few years ago… it flies so fast. Have a great summer!

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    • Actually, Aaron is a junior this year, so I have one more year before his h.s. graduation. I know a lot of kids graduating this year, and was thinking of their parents and me, when I wrote this. Yes, that phase after college… oh so scary. Anything, anything (!) can happen. Have a great summer Lisa. 🙂

      Like

  6. Rita Russell says:

    I totally agree with everything you wrote. I was excited and emotional when my first graduated. The second one, though, has just been such a handful from the get-go that it’s hard to look to the future – I just want the current drama to be over! However, I KNOW that come September I’ll be the teary, thoroughly emotional one.

    Like

    • It will hit you, in ways you can’t possibly see right now “Rita.” And think: half of your material will be moving out! 😉 Which leaves lots of time for you to explore other things, and work on publishing that novel! So many pluses and minuses… it all balances out in the end.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I have two grown sons in their 30s who now have children of their own. I am also Dad to two little girls 6 and 10. Having become somewhat of an Old Softy in my advancing years (and because they are girls), I have a sneaky feeling that things will be very different when they go off into the world – Daddy’s Little Girls and all that.

    Thanks for a great post!

    Like

  8. Great post Dawn. I don’t have kids, but it’s amazing how time flies. Seeing some of my friends kids graduating is enough for me.

    Like

  9. Just found this on LAB. It’s wonderful. Funnily enough it was my eldest’s 18th birthday that really hit me as the big turning point, and I felt many of those things that you describe. I’m also lucky that she is living at home while attending College, so I haven’t had to make that big break yet…

    Like

    • First, welcome to TFtM! Glad you found me on LAB; I’ve often wondered if anyone reads the blogs there. I’ve posted, but never had anyone say they saw it there. So thanks for stopping by, and I hope you’ll check out some other posts! 🙂 I totally agree that my kids’ 18th birthdays were a big benchmarks as well, and their 21st really hit me! My daughter graduated from college last May and is living in Israel; my middle son is going to be a senior in college next year, while my “baby” will be a senior in h.s. next year… it’s a process, but the letting go (for me) never gets that much easier. I just know, a little better, what to expect as each of my children gets there. Again, thanks for taking the time.

      Like

  10. First of all, for some reason WP unfollowed me from your blog, and I just discovered that. I thought you just hadn’t blogged in a while. I have rectified this grievous error.

    Secondly, this was a really thought-provoking post, My Lady. I don’t have kids, but I was just thinking about how it must have been such a bizarre adjustment for my parents when I went off to college. For me it was all exciting and new and fun to be independent for the first time, but for them it was probably very strange to not know where I was, not know if I was eating properly or getting enough sleep, not know who my friends were, what my daily life was like, etc. Thanks for sharing the parent’s view of this!

    Like

    • I never prod… but figure sometimes other bloggers just don’t read my posts. Glad to hear you’re back Madame! Missed you.

      I think things might have been a little different on lots of things, when we were growing up… BUT, I think it must have always been hard for mothers when their kids leave home. It is so visceral and so deep. Our babies, moving beyond us and making their own way. It’s a beautiful thing to see and while I’m so proud of my son and daughter for going out and doing such amazing things with their lives (one working for the Middle East’s division of the UN, the other studying in China and working in Taiwan this summer on national security– done bragging), I miss them and the days when they were little and happy to spin in my universe. Big changes… I’m sure your parents felt the same. But they were probably equally proud of your life.. Thanks for coming back. 😉

      Like

  11. I’m miles away from my kids graduating or so it seems. At the same time, I know how fast time flies. I can’t believe my oldest child is in 5th grade. Reading your very poignant piece, I wanted to go have a good cry. Oh, I know I’ll be crying and I believe what you say. The drive to their dorm room (if this is the scenario) will be the hardest drive ever. I can’t even think of it!

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  12. etomczyk says:

    Oh Dawn, you’re so right. My grandson just “graduated” (they call it stepping up) from pre-school (4 years old) and I lost it! I was too busy trying to get my kids to the next step that I barely noticed the moments but with my grandson, I am slowly down the moments and the events to wallow in them and it is working. Very nice peace. (P.S. Enjoy your tropical time.)

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  13. I was itching to go away to college and then on to my first job. It wasn’t until my mid 20s that I really wanted to hang out with my parents again. It’s funny how the same person goes from the center of your world to the one you have to challenge to your friend. 🙂

    Like

    • The journey is challenging for sure! I feel fortunate that my daughter only strayed for a short time… I think it’s different with boys. I know they will go out and find another woman to fill my shoes. (So to speak…)

      Like

  14. Reblogged this on Tales from the Motherland and commented:

    This is a monumental few weeks for us. My nephew graduated from college last week; my daughter returned from Israel yesterday, and will be home for three months; our oldest son is graduating from college this weekend, and then moving overseas for a year, and in a few weeks our youngest will graduate from high school, along with our much loved, German son (AKA: German exchange student). One will return to Germany, and our son will study abroad.
    I will be heeding my own advice, as hard as it is. This summer, Little Man and I are “carving out sacred time,” by taking a trip to Scandinavia… he is a lover of Vikings, and we get to visit our Danish daughter (AKA: Danish exchange student 2011/2013). I will be making time for my nephew and my daughter, as they get ready for bigger adventures. I’ll be doing all of this, while trying to maintain my “bubble,” my own space. It is a pivotal time in our lives! At the end of this summer, our nest will indeed be empty!
    So, I’m reposting this. It seemed timely.

    Like

  15. I am in the category of filing this away for the future. My Little Man is coming down the home stretch of fifth grade, and I’m already worrying about how he’s going to handle all of the note taking in seventh grade on up. Definitely going to have to write something into his IEP. I can’t even think about his going off to college yet. Although, at this point, we’re not sure what sort of post high school education will best suit him. Got some time to figure it out, though. Thanks for the repost on such a poignant piece.

    Like

  16. Dawn, I’m miles past high school and college with my kids. Next thing is my daughter going to meet her present boyfriend’s family for the first time. I’ll hear about that later.—Susan

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  17. Suzanne says:

    Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts. My daughter who is the first child will graduate in 6 weeks. I’m happy and sad at the same time. I am excited for her to go away to college and so is she. You’re right about time going by quickly. I’ve tried really hard to savor her senior year knowing in the back of my mins that this is it. I like the fact that you made a point about high school graduation being a big thing. My daughter doesn’t want a party so we will take her out to dinner and have a cake. Even though I wouldn’t have minded throwing a party in her honor. I just want her to know how much we love her and how happy we are and it’s a very special time in her life.

    Like

    • Thanks so much for stopping by TFTM, Suzanne. I appreciate you reading my work and sharing your own thoughts; thanks!

      It is a big deal! She many not know it right now, but it is. Dinner out and a cake is something to help mark the occasion and say: this is special. Take time this summer; do something special with her, before she goes. They get so caught up in their friends, etc, that last summer… but this is a special time, savor it! Thanks again for your thoughtful comment.

      Like

  18. lisakunk says:

    I enjoyed your piece. I too write about life with kids and then the empty nest. We have a twenty six year old just finishing grad school and are waiting with fingers crossed that work doesn’t take her (and her husband) far away. Our other three kids are 19 year-old triplets and are just about to finish their first year away at college. We’ve made it without too many emotional breakdowns. Tears and missing being in the midst of their lives, yes. I’m about to write an update to my blogs on fluttering in and out of the empty nest. It’s a fun ride having people come and go and come again even when it’s a different kind of arrival and visit. I feel like my kids visit home now. That’s a strange way to think. Thanks for posting.

    Like

    • Lisa, thanks for stopping by Tales From the Motherland; it’s much appreciated! I can’t imagine raising triplets, to be honest… sounds daunting, and wonderful and full of challenges that most of with “singles” can’t imagine! Bravo to you! I’ll definitely check out your post, and look forward to connecting! Thanks again.

      Liked by 1 person

  19. Renee says:

    Thank you for your article. My son, my only child, will be graduating from HIgh School in a couple weeks. It is hitting me hard. I’ve asked others and they’re excited and haven’t been emotional..so I thought I was over-reacting. But After reading your post, I think I’m just more aware of what a big deal and how life changing this time is. Maybe it’s because I just have one and we have always been really close, and..I’m a single mom. But I feel like I’m losing the person I love hanging out with the most. The doubts and would’ve/ should’ve’s are just piling on. My son has been my world and I just don’t know where I fit now, but so proud and excited for him. But again, because of your post I know I’m not alone(or crazy😉) for having these feelings. And thank you for your advice on carving out time this summer..I’m definitely going to be doing that. ❤️

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    • Renee, welcome to Tales From the Motherland. Thank you for taking the time to read my piece and share your thoughts. I can only imagine how much this much impact you, when you are a single parent with one child! As I expressed in my piece, I think IT IS a big deal regardless, but I imagine this is all that much more impactful, in your shoes. Thanks for sharing your experience; it means a lot to me and others who might read. I appreciate your honesty and the time you took to share it! All the best in the weeks and months ahead… it’s an exciting and rewarding time; try to embrace it!

      Like

    • Ali says:

      Thank you.
      My one and only daughter is graduating from high school tomorrow. I have an overwhelming sense of grief at this time…my friend reminded me this is a happy time – what we all want for our children… and so it is! And yet, I feel so sad… SOOO SAD! And have been having a hard time understanding and relating to my feelings. What you (and others online) have written is an enormous help – I am not alone or the only one… I feel so validated and understood and supported by the strangers out there who have walked this walk before me.

      Like

      • Ali, thanks for stopping by Tales From the Motherland; I appreciate you sharing your thoughts and taking the time to read my work. No, you are NOT alone! As I watch some of my friends go through this for the first time (I’ve now seen all three of my kids fly), I can easily remember the sadness I felt with the first, and each one after. It changes things forever, and yes, while it is what we raised them to do, and it is also a happy time, we are each entitled to our own feelings about this enormous change. Cry. Get it out! Don’t let anyone else tell you how to feel… and at the same time, remember, your daughter is entitled to her feelings of excitement and happiness. She will only get this, many years from now. 😉 All the best as you celebrate (and mourn) graduation day, and the days to come!

        Like

    • Ali says:

      Renee–
      Me too me too me too. My daughter, my only child, will be graduating tomorrow. TOMORROW! It’s hitting me hard! EVERYTHING you wrote above could have come right out of me. You expressed really what it’s like to be me so I want to say THANK YOU. THANK YOU! THANK YOU! Now we both are not alone (or crazy!)
      Wishing you and your son all the best in your new chapters!

      Like

  20. Amy says:

    My first born will be graduating this May 2017 and I am a MESS. I am on a rollercoaster of pure emotion and at the end of this rollercoaster is graduation in all its looming sadness and reality. I am BEYOND excited for my sons future, but horrified of the unknown…will he make the right decisions? Will he stay away from trouble…Will he be safe? How will I protect him when he goes to college? The unknown is horrifying to me. I am not handling this well at all, I know. The moments that break me INSTANTLY is when my son, out of the blue, holds my hand. Those giant hands that used to be so small. My husband reassures me that everything will be okay we have 2 more boys to love and spoil…but how do I just let go of the first baby?

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s a tough, tough transition, and trust me… it will seem that much harder when your youngest does it. That said, you will be a different mom by then, and you may surprise yourself! Plan some special time together this summer. Plan to go to Bed, Bath and Beyond (or something similar) and buy all those dorm supplies… while they’re still in stock; plan a special day doing something fun, and just accept that this is a big transition–– for both of you. You’ll be fine, mama! 😉

      Thanks for taking the time to read my piece, and for sharing your thoughts; it’s much appreciated!

      Like

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