Dear moms of high school seniors,
I see your posts on social media, and I sense your excitement, mixed with anxiety and a bit of sadness (if we are being completely honest). I notice your photos of all the lasts, and I celebrate your child’s accomplishments with you. I see you, and I know you because I have been you, twice now.
I feel the almost palpable sinking feeling that hits in the pit of your stomach when you think about them moving on to the next stage. How is it possible they have grown from such a tiny, helpless little child into this physically mature person, who the world says is technically (and suddenly) an adult?
We have been there for the kindergarten drop-offs, the school musicals, the football games, the choir concerts, the debate team championships, and every bit of school-associated friend drama. We have checked their grades from our home computers, signed permission slips, turned in fines for lost library books, checked them out for orthodontist appointments, muddled through class schedule planning, and in the last few years, we have been their teachers when they could not have in-person instruction. We packed lunches, drove carpools, waited by the bus stop, provided team snacks, and did anything that was possible to support our local teachers and PTA.
In many ways, our child and their role in school have been the biggest influencer in our lives for the past 13 years, and whether we work outside the home or not, our lives and activities revolve around the school calendar and the many duties that align with it.
My youngest graduated in 2021, and I consider myself to be one of the more involved parents in our school district. I was fortunate to be a stay-at-home mom, and as such, had the flexibility to give of my time in this way. I would not change a thing about this, but I wondered what life would be like for me after my nest was empty and there were no more PTA meetings to help lead or back-to-school events to attend.
At one point in my life, I was fearful of not having a purpose in this new phase of life, and it was anxiety-provoking for me.
For this reason, I want to write to you moms who may be feeling the same fears.
I want to reassure you that things are going to be OK—heck, they might even be fabulous! Some of you won’t believe me, but most of the things I thought I would miss so much about my daughter’s school years, I don’t miss at all. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it in the seasons we were living within, but I must admit that it is nice to have evenings free to spend with my husband doing anything we feel like. The time I used to spend giving to the school is now time I can use to take up new hobbies or volunteer in other local community agencies.
I don’t check my daughters’ grades or even know a single one of her professors. She knows her professors though, and when one is particularly inspiring to her, she will share it with me. While it is sometimes odd to not know what she is doing on a daily basis, I have become comfortable with the fact that she has her own life and friendships that I will never be involved in. Any sadness I feel about that is easily lifted when I realize that we raised her to be an independent adult who has her own life.
It’s freeing, to be completely honest.
Of course, we are there to offer advice about career planning and goals but she has an advisor who knows all of the ins and outs of her course requirements, and we are not responsible for these choices anymore. That is really nice!
I remember feeling like my daughters’ senior years were a series of milestones to check off: senior photos, college applications, scholarship essays, references, awards ceremonies (so glad to escape the pressure from those annual award ceremonies), prom, post-graduation parties. It’s a whole lot to plan, and with social media, the need to get it all picture perfect can be overwhelming. I think it is truly difficult for our children to truly enjoy this time because there are so many milestones and deadlines in one year, and there is so much cultural pressure to know where you are going and what you will be doing after high school.
The summer after graduation was a bit stressful for my daughters as they planned their dorm decorating and felt fearful about the next steps. Moving away from home is not easy, but it has been so good for my daughters. I think we are all breathing a sigh of relief that my youngest is about to complete her freshman year in college. She loved it, but it was scary at first. Now she is comfortable there, and when she goes back, she has friends and knows it is her second home.
So for these reasons, and many others, I want to tell you to enjoy the rest of their senior year.
Get the photos with all of the friend groups, plan and attend parties, help your child plan their next steps as much as they want you to, and know that this truly isn’t the end. While it is the ending of some things, in many ways it is the beginning of a new and wonderful phase in which you, as a mom, can take a bit of a breath as you watch your adult child from the sidelines (and you don’t have to bring the orange slices). Don’t be afraid to close this chapter. The next act is theirs to orchestrate, and from my experience, you have a second act of your own to plan.