If you are the mom of a high school senior, you probably have mixed feelings about graduation. All the moms talk about how sad they feel. Everyone makes sympathetic, frowny faces and asks how you are doing, expecting you to dissolve in a puddle at the very mention of graduation.
While we appreciate the sympathy, keep your tissues because some of us aren’t going to shed a single tear about our child graduating. As an Empty Nest Coach, I can testify that many moms do not feel sad at the thought of graduation. For many reasons, moms shrug off the expected tears. If you are a mom who is dry-eyed, you might wonder if you are alone in not feeling weepy. Is something wrong with you? Are you a cold-hearted mother who doesn’t even care? Emphatically, NO! Breathe easy and see if you recognize yourself among these five reasons why your child’s high school graduation doesn’t make you cry.
The thought of graduation doesn’t make you cry because high school sucked for your kid. Both you and your graduating senior eagerly look forward to the day when high school and all the accompanying drama or frustration or disappointment fade in the rear-view mirror. The next phase feels like a welcome fresh start. Both of you will high-five each other when the tassel turns knowing better days await. No tears here.
You won’t cry at graduation because you feel numb. The speed at which this year happened has left you emotionally reeling. You tried to soak it in, but all your systems feel overloaded. It isn’t that you don’t have any emotion . . . it’s that you have all the emotion. If you let even one tear slip out of your carefully constructed emotional dam, they will all come flooding out and you will be a soggy mess for the next month.
I see you, Mama. No one wants to be the mom sobbing on the fourth row during graduation. There is a time and a place for letting emotions out. At some point, you might get to a spot where you feel protected enough to allow yourself to feel these graduation emotions. That’s okay. Until then, take some deep breaths. Pull out your phone and in the Notes app, write down one sentence about what you will need to feel secure enough to unpack what you feel about your child graduating. Just like we tell our big kids: just do one thing, one step in that direction. No hurry, no judgment.
Graduation doesn’t make you cry because you have bigger fish to fry right now. Life doesn’t stop for graduation. You might be dealing with aging parents who need immediate attention or you lost your job or you got a life-altering diagnosis from the doctor. As much as you want to be fully present and focused on your graduate, life may interrupt.
The week my daughter graduated from high school, we found out that my son, who was serving in the Air Force, would be deploying again to the Middle East. We were actually walking into her graduation party when my son called to tell us the news. I remember feeling like I had been punched in the gut, but I had to fold up that knowledge and file it away until later in the evening when I could process it. My daughter’s graduation party needed and deserved my full attention. I smiled as best I could. I celebrated with her, knowing my heart was still in shock.
Graduation feels huge, momentous, pivotal, and yet, it can be eclipsed by other life events. Other events push us into go mode or survival mode and leave no room for tears about graduation.
Reason number four why you won’t pack any tissues for graduation involves a senior who has been insisting they are grown since freshman year. (I had one of these). If you have spent the last four years trying to negotiate with a child over every rule and boundary, I feel your pain. When my oldest graduated, we all breathed a little easier. Graduation was like a starter’s pistol for a horse that was longing to run. He was ready to be out from under the constraints of high school, and we were ready to move from parents with rules to parents with suggestions. I did not shed a single tear at graduation that year, and neither did he. We were both ready.
Graduation won’t make you cry because your child is beaming with joy. Our child’s happiness spreads to us, a contagion we are thrilled to be infected with. The pure enjoyment of the accomplishment, the celebration of finally crossing the finish line—we feel it with them. We lose ourselves in their laughter, piggybacking on their smiles. We might shed a small tear of joy, but not sadness. Our hearts are bursting to see our precious big kid lighting up with pride. All their celebration increases our capacity to enjoy this moment on their behalf. Any sad emotions we feel for ourselves can get pushed off until another day. When we see our graduate owning their moment and delighted to be launching into the next phase of life, our joy multiplies as a mom.
Graduation pushes different emotional buttons for everyone. Wherever you land on the happy vs. sad spectrum, embrace it. Know that there is not a right or better reaction. You may feel one emotion consistently, or you may feel every emotion and then its exact opposite the next day. As much as possible, accept your reaction and enjoy your graduate!