Parenting a graduate – a lesson before crying

I’ve been to 26 graduations in my 47 years on this Earth. That includes 16 ceremonies I’ve attended for students, 4 of my own, 2 of my husband’s and two each for my children. That’s a whole lot of pomp under a whole lot of circumstances. I’ve participated in ceremonies held in a rodeo arena where my heels got lost in the sawdust, a concert arena that seated 10,000, a cathedral-like church, and everything in between. Despite the venue, an unmistakeable air of tradition and respect pervaded the atmosphere. Graduation ceremonies – despite the occasional cow bell or bull horn – elicit a feeling of grandeur as regally-robed participants process toward a school official who with one handshake sends this silent message:

This end, this thing that you’ve worked so long and so hard for, is really just preparation for the real work that’s about to begin.

As parents watching our children graduate, we know this, which is why graduations are the very definition of bittersweet. We are proud of our children’s accomplishments because they are also our own accomplishments. Graduation says we did something right. We got our kids through school. We gave them the tools they needed to find success. We supported them when they needed it and made them accountable for their own learning when they didn’t want to be. So when we cry tears of joy, we are happy not only for their good decisions and hard work, but also for the part we played in raising them into fine young men and women.

Our tears also hold sadness, however. We are sad that an important stage of our children’s lives is over. We are sad that they must now grow up and be exposed to the adult world without our protection or the safe haven we have provided them. We are sad that reality will demand much from themĀ  – pursuing a college degree, fostering a career, paying bills, leaving childhood behind. We are sad that they are doing exactly what we hoped they would – leaving us. Moving on. Moving out.

Graduation – heck, parenthood – is painful. It swells the heart and crushes it at the same time. It is endings and beginnings and regret for what is lost and excitement for what is to come.

So as someone who has experienced an inordinate number of graduations, let me offer some advice as you prepare yourself for your children’s next steps. Are you ready?

1. Try not to cry.

That’s really the only advice I have to give. It ruins your makeup and makes your face splotchy, which you will lament years later when you revisit the graduation photos. And on a much more serious note, it makes your kids uncomfortable. They hate to see their parents cry, especially on what is supposed to be a happy occasion. They need graduation to be about them, not about you. They need you to beam with pride and joy and complete confidence that they are absolutely ready for the next stage of their life. It really is all about the tone you set at this point, and you must convey a tone of positivity and the full belief that your children are about to be even more amazing, even while you secretly die a little inside.

Once you’ve accomplished that, and your graduate has gone off to a party or gone to bed for the night, have a good cry. Let it all out. Feel every emotion of pride, heartsickness, relief, worry, and love. Then pull yourself together and start strategizing. Because you’ll have to hold it together again and again, with every bump they encounter and every landmark they reach, for the rest of your life.

That’s what parents do. Congratulations, Mom and Dad. You done good.


The parent’s role in the final months of school

In my book, Teenagers 101, I spend a lot of time talking about parent involvement in their teenagers’ educations and lives. I cover do’s and dont’s in various areas of concern throughout the school year and provide the inside scoop on what teachers would love to tell you about your kids. Today, though, I’d like to concentrate on something that is hitting everyone hard right now – the end of the school year, with final exams and final grades. It’s a touchy month for teachers, students, and parents alike, so below are my Equitable Eight suggestions for helping your children self-advocate and take responsibility for their actions.

1. Now is not the time for teenagers (and parents!) to start worrying about grades – that should have happened quite a while ago. Yes, final exams can make a difference in a course grade, but if a child hasn’t shown much interest all year, his chance of doing well on a final exam that serves as an accumulation of all he’s learned is slim. Encourage him to study hard, but let him know that learning is a process, and the process starts on the very first day of school.

2. If your child realizes that she has not done the work this year that she should have, look ahead. It does little good to tell kids what they should have done; in fact, it’s much better that they come to this realization on their own. Once they do, take a constructive, forward-thinking approach so that they can learn from their mistakes and start the next school year on the right foot.

3. If there is a question about grades, make sure your children handle it instead of you. Encourage them to speak to their teachers respectfully, to clarify how they earned the grade they did, and to ask how the can do well on their final assignments and exams. Being able to self-advocate is crucial for success, and you will do your kids a huge favor if you teach them this now.

4. If your child is not able to get answers to questions or truly does not understand her current grade, email the teacher and say that. Always approach these situations as a partner in your child’s success, as someone who wants to work with the teacher for clarification. Do not contact the principal or speak to other parents without first talking to the teacher. Nine times out of ten, you will get the answers you seek and everything will make more sense after a simple email exchange with the teacher.

5. Offer to help your kids with studying strategies or spend an hour quizzing them on their notes. Beyond that, it’s best to step back and let them take ownership of their learning and studying. Since you are trying to prepare teenagers for life after high school, it’s important to transfer the responsibility to them now and to serve as a support, but not a crutch.

6. Do not fight for a better grade for your kid if he has not earned it himself. Don’t ask teachers for extra credit, don’t ask that your kid be able to make up an assignment from a month before, and don’t ask a teacher to round up a grade. NONE of this supports learning or responsibility. Your child may be disappointed in his grade and that’s perfectly okay. It will serve as an impetus for harder work next time and teach him that sometimes he will have to work harder than others to achieve his goals.

7. Do not let your children skip school because “we’re not doing anything in class.” Trust me, they are doing something in class. And if they’re not, well, then you have every right to be angry about that. If your kids are watching Ferris Bueller in math, question it. If they’re working hard all the way until the last day, commend the teacher for keeping them engaged and focused.

8. Don’t lie for your kids, ever. Don’t excuse absences so that they can exempt exams. Don’t claim they’re at a doctor’s appointment so that they can get their hair done for prom. Don’t say that you saw them do an assignment that is missing from the teacher’s grade book. Think of the example you are setting when you do this, and ask yourself what is really important – the grade or the example of character you set for your kids.


For more tips and suggestions on helping your kids find success, both at school and in life, look for Teenagers 101, coming out in the fall.