Dear Mom of a High School Senior,
Hey, friend. How ya doin'?
I see you there, and I've been thinking about you. You've been holding your breath all year long, blinking back tears, bursting with pride, and simultaneously fighting a feeling of disbelief that your child is graduating this year.
What?! How is this possible?
Where did the time go?
I know just how you feel.
During each of my children's senior years I swung wildly between excitement and dread, wonder and anxiety, joy and grief. I helped pick out graduation announcements and put a party date on the calendar, cooked dinners, and planned our "last summer together" times. I fussed at their messy rooms and admired their youthful confidence and listened to their ideas and sighed at the late nights.
I'll be honest, I looked forward to going to bed earlier after they left.
I couldn't wait for a less complicated family schedule.
I was so ready for fewer conflicts, no eye-rolling, and an end to seeing plates and cups left in the living room.
But...I couldn't hold back the tears when I looked in on their sleeping faces at night. Somehow, alongside their nearly-adult forms, in my mind I could see their toddler-selves in footie pajamas, with their soft hair on the pillow, and those eyelashes resting on rosy cheeks that smelled so good. I could see a tattered stuffed lovey under one arm.
Wasn't that just yesterday? How is it that they now fill up the entire bed?
And when I looked in the mirror I saw a woman who had been through the trenches of motherhood: stretch-marks, a few more wrinkles, more than a few gray hairs. My arms, once toned from carrying diaper bags and small children whose legs randomly refused to work and who insisted on being held, now tell me I need a personal trainer and a diet.
I'd savored as much as I possibly could, but you know....life. The pressures of my job, the constant scramble to make it to the next appointment or meeting or sports event, the last minute "Mom my project is due tomorrow" runs to the craft store for supplies, the youth group fund-raisers, and flat tires and pizza orders...it all seemed like a blur and I wondered if I'd banked enough memories to last me through the loneliness I knew was coming.
I'm thinking about you today.
I want you to know a few things.
First of all, I know your kid is going to make it.
I know it seems impossible that a teenager who can't remember to close the pantry door will remember to get to class and do his homework on time, but eventually he will. I know it sounds crazy to think that your girl who can't make up her mind about which earrings to wear will figure out what major to study...and will finish strong. To be clear, your child is going to make some of the same mistakes you made at his age, (a thought that probably isn't very comforting,) but in your heart you know it IS part of the process of growing up.
I know there is plenty to fear, but I'm not going to go into the "what if's" of our modern world. Cable news and reality TV can scare you silly with everything that's "out there." Let me encourage you though. Keep fighting through the worry and anxiety. Keep on praying. Keep on believing the very best for your child. You'll be amazed at what the next few years will bring: maturity, gratitude, joy, and a new season in your relationship as your kid becomes an adult friend.
There is so much to look forward to, I promise.
So, keep on looking forward.
As graduation approaches, everyone asks your kid about their plans. Will they go to college? Will they begin working right away?
"What do you want to do with your life?" people ask. I remember listening to my kids answer those questions...even as I felt that question sink down into my own soul.
What do I want to do with MY life, now that an empty nest is staring me in the face?
I had invested so much into my high school senior. For eighteen years I'd loved and cared for the most precious and most exasperating gift imaginable. It was such a roller coaster ride. And now...who will I be in this next season of life?
Maybe you're asking this, too.
Let me tell you: you will be amazing.
Everything you've done in life has prepared you for now. All those sleepless nights and endless conversations about texting and driving and being a person of character; all those spaghetti nights and booster clubs and slumber parties. You've given your all, sacrificed until it hurt, and loved that kid like nothing else in the world mattered.
You've loved hard, and deep, and well.
And that love will propel you forward into your own future. It will make a way for your dreams and your secret longings. Love will inspire you and give you courage to step out into the new world that is yourself.
Who will you be?
You'll be that woman who leans into the next season with all the passion you put into the last one.
You'll be the one who blooms, who becomes, who flourishes.
Like your kid, you'll make new friends, find new avenues of creativity, and set new goals for yourself.
Maybe you'll sleep a little bit more.
My dear friend, as you let go of your graduate, remember that you will never be "done" being a mom, just like you're never "finished" being your own person. You'll find yourself on the other side, so grateful and aware of your blessings. You'll be humbled by the immensity of what just happened, and you'll feel tremulous on the verge of a new voyage.
Don't be afraid to lean in. To listen. To feel all the feelings.
Experience the rush of letting go, and beckon the tide that returns to lift you.
You were made for all the joy and all the depth and all the love. You made a life and a family with the circumstances that were handed to you, and you did it with class and style and grace.
I may not know you by name, but I am so very proud of you.
This is your senior's time in the spotlight, and deservedly so. But I see you standing behind that cap-and-gown clad young person and know just how much this day means to you.
You did it.
You did what you set out to do.
Now, go breathe in the life that is you.
You've earned it.
Rachel is an author, speaker, and empty nest mom.
Her latest book is about letting go, and learning to live free.
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