So my son finished his last day of high school this week. We already had the graduation ceremony, the dinner and dance, the official goodbyes, and through all of that I was completely dry-eyed. Today however, as he left the house for the last time as a high school student to write his physics diploma, I couldn’t hold back the tears. It surprised me actually. You’d think the big event would trigger the waterworks, but it was the totally innocuous “Bye mom,” in his golf shirt and too-short pants that made me crumble.
Though I am thrilled for him, I am choking up still as I write those words. I know that he is a truly wonderful kid, and that he will be ok, wherever he ends up, but it really is the most painful paradox. The better the job you’ve done, the more capable and independent they will be, thus the less they will need you.
Like many young adults, his personality is also a paradox that astounds me every day. He is kind and generous yet also self-absorbed, a student leader ready to change the world and a basement video game player, a well groomed and Axe body-sprayed young man but with a room that looks like a bomb went off, studious and hardworking but always ready for a good time.
I know he will do well as he enters the next phase of his life more or less without me or his dad, but when he heads off for university in the fall, I can’t help but wonder, will he remember or care about washing his clothes, make his bed (and washing his sheets too!), making healthy food choices? (ok full disclosure: he doesn’t really remember now, at home)
I am definitely not a helicopter parent, and in fact, have been told I’m pretty laid back (some may not be saying that as a compliment). But all the research points to not picking our kids up when they fall, letting them fail, learning from their mistakes, not fixing things for them or fighting their battles, all the while building resilience for “the real world.”
In fact, the most hilarious line about parenting I’ve ever heard comes from the Netflix show Shameless, when deadbeat dad William H. Macy is giving parenting advice to his soon-to-be-a-father older son Lip, saying, “My philosophy is you gotta let kids learn for themselves…the best gift you can give? Neglect. Neglect fosters self reliance.”
But now that the time has come to truly let him go, all I want to do is hold on tight and make sure everything is ok for him. Can you become a helicopter parent when your kid turns 18? I’ll let you know. I know it’s ok that I won’t be there to catch him if he falls, but I guess if I really have done my job well, no one will need to, right?
My point is, raising my kids has been the single most important job of my life for the past 18 years, and I, like generations of women before me, wonder how it went so fast and whether I’ve done everything I needed to do to help him succeed without me.
I know that people say that parenting never ends, but the times of cuddles, getting up in the middle of the night with a sick kid, endless dance recitals, baseball games and band concerts does come to an end, and with it, a part of your identity. It doesn’t matter whether you are a mom who works outside the home or have stayed at home with your kids, this time is just so completely bittersweet.
So happy graduation all the seniors out there, your mom may not cry when you take the stage to get your diploma, but know that she will most likely do it at the strangest, most unlikely moment, and she is so incredibly proud of you.