Dear Parents of High School Seniors,
This is not a list of all the things you must do before your child graduates/leaves for college. There are enough of those out there and every one of them put a giant pit in my stomach. This is a letter to tell you everything is going to be okay. I promise.
A year ago I was sitting in your seat (truth be told I was curled up in a ball on my couch). The last few weeks of my son’s senior year I was filled with dread. Dread of change, dread of him being on his own, dread of the unknown and, honestly, dread of him leaving me. Dread of the inevitable: my child was grown and was moving on.
All the lists of things to do before they leave overwhelmed me. Why hadn’t I done that? Had I done enough? Had he experienced enough? Had I given him enough? Had I given him too much? Can you ever love someone too much? Had I helicoptered and created a young man who couldn’t fend for himself? My son went to small, private schools. Imagine my surprise when he told me he wanted to go to Ohio State – one of the largest schools in the country.
I could go on and on about all the things I worried about, but let me share this: many nights of my son’s senior year and leading up to him leaving I would lay in bed, paralyzed, crying and praying that I would not let this dread ruin all the amazing moments to come. I would always do this in private – if I felt the tears coming I would leave the room so my son wouldn’t see me.
In the blink of an eye, it was the morning he left for college. My confident kid was moving like a snail, laying on the couch with the dogs, not saying a word. I immediately recognized the look on his face because I had been wearing it for months: dread.
Had I passed that on to him? All my insecurities and fears? I hugged him and told him it was going to be great, and that I knew he would be fine, and that we had to go. It was that moment I realized I needed to get over it and be strong. This wasn’t about me. It was like a switch flipped. I did not want him to sense any of my dread so I shut it down. It was just the two of us on the short drive there and next thing you know we are in it. And we enjoyed every second.
I kept it together and genuinely loved everything about that day: meeting his roommates and their families, picking up his football tickets, watching his dad and stepdad assemble furniture together, all of it. When I watched him walk away, there were tears, but there was also a shift. A new chapter of his life, and our relationship, had begun.
He takes his last final tonight and will be home for the summer. Here are some things I learned this year about my son, and me:
– He is an adult. I don’t get to make decisions for him anymore. He is much more independent than I ever thought he could or would be. He handles his business and doesn’t appreciate me reminding him to do things. This is tough, but he needs to find his own path and sometimes learn the hard way.
– Our relationship is different, but stronger. I have changed my way of communicating with him. Instead of asking “Are you (fill in the blank: drinking, partying, etc.),” I ask “How often are you (fill in the blank).” This was a game changer. He answers me honestly since I go in with the assumption he is already doing it. Some of his answers I wasn’t ready for, but I did not react. I would rather know the truth, and if something really concerned me, I would address it privately at another time. We have grown much closer because of this, and he trusts me.
There is one thing I recommend (add it to your to do list!): Write a letter. The night before I took him to college, I wrote him a letter and shared things with him I had never shared before. I tucked it away in his things where he would see it when I left. He brought it up on the phone and said he really liked it (high praise from this one), and I felt good writing it. Leave nothing unsaid.
Bottom line: life is very different. Different does not equate to bad. Some days are harder than others and I am overwhelmed with thoughts of the way things used to be. The best days are when I have honest, real conversations with my adult son and realize I did a damn good job.