Oh the places you will go (Dr. Suess)
– Desiree Panlilio
Big transitions – high school graduation and college graduation. As parents we are wrapping up a school year of our teenager saying, “This is the last time I will (fill in the blank).” Parents are also wrapping up a series of lasts, watching your teenager compete in their last sporting event or their last school performance in drama, band, or robotics competition. You have communicated with their teachers for the last time. That last empty space in the frame on the wall which you saved for the school photo from each year has been filled. Bought the last prom dress or rented that tux for the last time, called in their last absence, signed their last permission slip, and monitored the last semester of grades. Experiencing senior nights and senior gatherings all to remind both parent and teenager that some dramatic changes are about to unfold. Life will change, perspectives will be challenged, and the teenager will grow and mature.
With each milestone, your teenager moves closer to independence and less reliance on parents. For college parents, it is watching your college student slowly shift focus from college life and their social life to resume writing and job interviews. The carefree days of college are slowly coming to a close. It is easy as parents to think about the past, to remember that little person, dropping them off at preschool, watching them finish elementary school and participating in their first sporting or cultural event. A world of wonder and awe as the little person grows into an amazing adult right before our eyes. It is an exciting time but still as the end approaches we often focus on the last time.
I encourage parents to take another route. It is easy to focus on the series of lasts, but I encourage parents to focus on all the lovely firsts that also happened this year, as well as for those still to come. For the first time, parents send out graduation announcements for our children and plan a party to celebrate their academic accomplishment. For high school seniors it is having your teenager enroll in their first college and have their first roommate. Being able to register to vote and the responsibility that accompanies such a rite of passage. Your teenager will soon live away from home for the first time. As parents you will miss them like crazy and adjust to a new family dynamic and look forward to the sweet reunion over their first holiday break. Your teenager will make their first friends as an adult and meet new professors and experience a new culture. Your teenager will have a new intoxicating sense of freedom that will help to further their independence and growth into adults.
Or if your teenager is not going to college, they are taking that next step into the independent future that your teenager has designed for themself. To see your teenager walking forward into an amazing future with endless opportunity. Watching your teenager move out, find roommates and navigate the many challenges of the working world is full of firsts. Where as a parent we become a mentor, an opportunity to encourage and build on the strengths and foundation we spent years nurturing as parents.
For teenagers finishing college, it is finding that first job, the first apartment and understanding the world in which they are now entering. Making decisions about their career, meeting deadlines and building a foundation of their own and creating their own path. It is an exciting time full of challenges that lie beyond the academic world. As parents we get to watch to encourage and see that the foundation provided has created an amazing young adult.
After all, a “last” only means a new “first” is just around the bend. Your teenager will soon do many other things for the first time that will surprise you, enlighten you, mystify you, bring you joy and make you proud. It is realizing that as parents you did your best at providing a solid foundation built on principles and helped to establish the values that your teenager will hold onto and reshape as they gain knowledge and insight into the ever changing world. But hold fast that the principles and foundation you provided have not gone unnoticed, and will make you proud during countless opportunities as you watch your teenager continue to grow.
I encourage parents to enjoy the moment of the “last”, because this last is opening the door to an amazing first that as parents you get to watch and enjoy. Be excited for the new journey, the new challenges. Provide encouragement when a challenge comes up in their life, remind them of their past resilience and how they overcame a similar situation and that they have the tools to make the right decision. To continue to empower your teenager, to listen with the intent to understand and ask the questions to foster their independence and own critical thinking skills. Don’t be sad that something is over. Be glad that it has occurred and that the future is ahead and many lasts and firsts are still to come.