When our daughter was five-years-old, she insisted kindergarten wasn’t for her.
As we drove away from her preschool graduation party, our eyes locked in the rearview mirror as she declared she’d be attending preschool another year. I remember the tug in my heart.
I wanted to shout, “Yes! Stay in preschool forever!”
But I knew better. She was ready.
That same child repeated some version of this at all major transitions: elementary to middle to high school.
She’s like me that way. It’s hard to let go of what you comfortably love to move toward what you’ll become.
Related: Dear Senior, There Are Five Things I Want You to Know Before You Go
High school graduation can be hard on you and your teen.
I sensed the same struggle as high school graduation approached, but she never said anything.
With all the celebrations and “lasts” swirling around us, it was hard to focus. Despite my motherly desire to reassure her, I honored her place.
She needed to find her voice and her way amidst the wild ride of senior year’s end. More importantly, I needed to let her do it on her own.
I knew she was reading my reactions at every turn.
Was she ready for this change? Did I think she was capable? Was her college decision right?
Related: How Do You Say Goodbye to Your Baby When It’s Time to Let Them Go?
My wisest friends reminded me that the best gift I could give was to let go.
Watch her ride the waves while keeping my feet on the shore. Cheer loudly for her while never conveying the complicated knots in my own stomach.
Letting go means letting her find her way. It’s about showing trust even when we feel uncertainty.
It’s not easy stepping back.
Just yesterday, I organized playdates, and today they’re selecting colleges.
How did it happen?
But instead of clamoring to grasp all of those senior year “lasts,” I realized loosening my grip conveyed more trust than holding on ever would.
Five tips to help you let go of your senior in a loving and supportive way
So, how do we begin to let go? Here are five suggestions from other parents that helped me.
- Be a mirror. Listen deeply when they talk with you, but be conscious to only reflect back rather than giving input. Teens facing this transition crave being heard. Even when they say they’d like your opinion, tread carefully. That’s usually code for: I want to know you to understand me.
- Check yourself. Be careful of filtering their experiences through your own memories. It’s far too easy to project, but don’t let your history shade their reality. Meet them where they are in their lives without judgment or comparison.
- Demonstrate curiosity. Use open-ended or noncommittal responses like, “I wonder where that might lead you?” or “I wonder how that would change things?” Not sure what to say? Try “Huh, that’s interesting!”
- Don’t parent from fear. Parent from trust. Let them know you’re always there for support, but you trust they’ll make the right decisions for themselves.
- Discuss their “life” toolbox. Remind them of how much they’ve learned, how independent they’ve grown and how many resources they have available to them. Give them examples of how they used ‘tools’ in a situation rather than relying on you.
Perhaps most importantly, take care of yourself during this transitional time (read: Three Simple Reasons Why Moms Need To Take Care of Themselves When Raising Their Teens), remembering your support toolbox.
Talk with other parents about your emotions. Surround yourself with supportive friends who’ve already navigated this.
Letting go is hard, but it’s easier when we have healthy outlets.
Related: Don’t Let Fear of an Empty Nest Ruin the Beautiful Moments You Have Now
As much as I miss those days of locking eyes with a kindergartner strapped into my back seat, her journey today provides just as much wonder.
Curiosity and trust gave her the space to explore. By letting go, she’s becoming who she needs to be.
On her own terms.
And I’m happy to be along for the ride.
She’s ready. And so are you.
Parenting teens and tweens is hard, but you don’t have to do it alone. Here are some other posts that may help.
There Really Is No Such Thing As An Empty Nest
Why I’m Not Sad High School Is Ending for My Teenager
College Drop-Off Can Be the Worst for the Younger Siblings Left Behind
You Will Feel Joy and Heartbreak When You Leave Your Teen at College
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