You would think that after 18 years of parenting I would truly grasp the notion that when entering a new phase with your child, nothing will go quite as expected. Well, I certainly had expectations of how things would be with my graduating senior; how there would be lots of memorable bonding moments during her final days at home and how our house would be bubbling with excitement as she prepares to embark on her next phase of life. Well, once again, I have been blindsided, and what is happening in my house, with my daughter who graduates tomorrow (but has been done with school for a week) is a far cry from the goodbye bliss I expected. Maybe some parents are experiencing harmony with their graduate, but from my own experience and in talking with other parents, I have learned that the reality of this transitional time looks and feels more like this:
- Graduation week is like landing on another planet. You feel like you are having an out of body experience because you swear that it was yesterday that you were wearing that cap and gown…and as you snap yourself back into your reality, you continue to look at your kid (mine has said to me on more than one occasion, “Mom, why are you staring at me?!”) and you wonder how 18 years could have gone by in a FLASH!
- They break up with you…in a very ungraceful way. They act like they are done with you during a time when you feel that you want to be spending more time with them. But their priority is their friends. From making the grad party rounds to just hanging out at friends’ houses, you will not find them anywhere near you. And even if they do breeze in, it is only temporary, and they usually ask for money, or just need to eat or possibly sleep for a while.
- They regress. I really wanted to record my daughter today as she tantrummed on the phone and spoke to me like a toddler who wasn’t getting her way. Her tone is often laced with annoyance—annoyance with me that I am still standing in her way to FREEDOM!
- If you expect gratitude, you will most likely be disappointed. “Thank you, mom, for 18 amazing years. Thank you for pouring your heart, soul and pocketbook into raising me. I know that I am the person I am today, in large part because of all the love and support you gave me.” Nope, not even close! Did not hear these words and realize that I probably won’t—at least not for a while. What I do hear is more along the lines of, “Mom, you are so annoying! Why are you imposing so many rules right now?! You know I am leaving for camp in 10 days (to work as a counselor) and then will be off to college soon after! I am so excited to get out of here! To not have to follow your rules! UGH! Can I have the car keys?” Harry Chapin was so right on, "See ya later, can I have them please?"
- Their feelings of nervousness and anxiety are released in bursts. I had some variation of this conversation at least 10 times in the last month, Me: "How are you feeling about leaving? Do you want to talk about it?" Her: “No, I am great, fine, excited. Can you stop asking me?" However, the 11th time, the response is something like this: “How do you think I am feeling?! I am super anxious! I have to say goodbye to all of my friends and my boyfriend, I have to get all my dorm stuff and I didn’t get into the dorm that I wanted so I don’t even know where I am living or who my roommate will be.
And what if:
I can’t stand my roommate;
I don’t make friends right away;
I can’t find my way to all my classes;
There aren’t yoga classes offered at the campus gym;
I don’t like the dorm food;
I can’t find fresh fruit to make my smoothies;
I don’t get into all the classes I want;
I don’t get into the sorority I want?
I’m super overwhelmed and I’m freaking out! But I have to be at a grad party in 15 minutes! Bye!”
As I commiserate with other moms of my daughter's friends about this pivotal time, there is a consensus that most of our daughters are a bit unglued right now, and the push-pull cycle is in full swing—with a heavy emphasis on the push. They are breaking away and it is not pretty. A friend of mine who has four daughters (her youngest is a recent grad) revealed, “You will have times during this process when you will say under your breath, ‘Yep, you’re leaving soon. Well, don’t let the door hit you in the a**!'”
I admit it. I have felt it. But then 20 minutes later, I come across an old picture that she drew for me when she was five, and I realize that she can do all the tantrumming and breaking up with me that she wants, but she will always be my girl.