It’s high school graduation season and for the first time in a long time, we don’t have a child donning a cap and gown. Instead of advice for the graduates, I thought I might share some insights for moms for whom this year is their first graduation.
To be perfectly real here, I was gobsmacked by the grief I felt when my first child left home. Our oldest left to serve a church mission for two years, and it was at a time when they were only allowed two phone calls a year: Christmas and Mother’s Day. I sobbed like he had died and I felt betrayed that other parents hadn’t told me how rough it could be. I cried that I “hadn’t taught him everything,” I cried that our day-to-day lives would never be the same, I cried that summer vacations would have one less person and I cried that I wouldn’t be there for him to talk to when he needed mom.
It gets better.
I’ve learned some other things as well, since that day 17 years ago. I’ve learned that being the parent to adults is still hard. When they get hurt, I can’t “fix” it with kisses and Band-Aids. I repeat to myself, “It’s their mistake to make. It’s their mistake to make,” even when I can see the train wreck coming. It’s somewhat ironic, really, because one of the pieces of advice I give to teens and young adults is that it’s ok to make mistakes…..
I have learned to shut my mouth and not offer advice unless they ask or I ask if it’s ok. Sometimes, my role is to make sure there’s a soft place for them to land when things go awry, either literally, when they move back home, or figuratively when I listen and support.
I have also learned to be ok with them wanting to go their own way, without my input. Sometimes, just like toddlers, they want to do it themselves. That can mean that they only touch base occasionally. That’s hard for me, but I get it. I did the same thing to my parents when I was navigating early adulthood. I mean, I felt like such a grown-up when I could drink orange juice any time, day or night, and not just in the morning. Every family has quirks that the next generation thinks should not be passed on.
I learned this while my kids are younger, but it’s been reinforced as they’ve left the nest. I am a whole person and more than just the role of mother. My identity is not wrapped up in my children’s successes or failures, although I feel them deeply. But I have a life and an identity beyond motherhood. Not only do I think that’s healthy for all mothers, but as the kids get older, they definitely don’t want a “helicopter mom” who can’t let go.
Good luck cutting the apron strings for the first, mama. It’s hard, but you can do it. Then, you can watch your little birdies learn to fly. You will love it.