My eldest son’s senior year of high school was the hardest year of my parenting career, but it wasn’t just because there was so much to do (get senior pictures taken, plan the graduation party, and make sure the financial aid paperwork is filled out and scholarships are applied for). I started the year filled with excitement for his future and sadness that there would be so many lasts: the last concert, the last performance, the last game, etc. I ended the year with a different attitude.
A high school senior has many plans to make. Will they work or go to school? What vocation will they choose? If school, where? All of these questions and decisions are emotional, but they are only the tip of the iceberg. As the year progresses the time nears when your baby will leave and go into the world alone. Yes, you are still a parent, but not in the same way as when they lived with you full time. Your senior is excited and scared to death. They wonder how will they survive without you. So to compensate, many of them act like they do not need you. Yes, they are excited, but they are scared too.
Is it really easier at your neighbor’s house?
I remember struggling with my high school senior man-child and being jealous of his friend’s mother. This friend, a young woman, was sweet, thoughtful, and considerate in every interaction I had with her, I was green with envy for the peace and calm that must have been in that home. Her mother had it made—or so I thought until I ran into her mother at the grocery store. To be polite, I asked how things were going, but I almost dreaded the answer. Claire (fake names used to protect the guilty) gave me the most exasperated look and circled her hand over her head like the sun observing the planets in orbit around her. “What?” I said.
“Oh, that is the world according to Leah. I do not think I can bear the next few months.”
“Thank you so much,” I responded with relief. “I had just been thinking how much easier life must be at your house.”
“Oh yes, she can be wonderful to everyone else, but at home is a different story,” her mother commiserated.
Many times that year it seemed like my son just wanted to be gone. During Christmas break I could not take it anymore. I had reached the end of my rope and the knot was starting to fray. I was about to fall into the abyss, never to be seen again. One night I calmly explained, “I left home the day after I graduated from high school for a summer job halfway across the state from my parents. Maybe you would like to exercise a similar option and find a summer job away from home. If you do not like living here once you graduate, you do not have to stay. You can find someplace else to live and a way to provide yourself with grocery money.”
His angry response was, ”Are you kicking me out?”
“No,” I explained as calmly as I could with a firm grip on the last few inches of my rope. “But once you graduate, I have fulfilled my responsibilities and if you do not want to live in my house with my rules, you are free to leave and figure out how to provide for yourself.”
Definition of Success
I continued to explain, “Graduate from high school will happen for you. You have a plan for how you will eventually support yourself and have been accepted to a good college. You are not addicted to drugs and you do not have a pregnant girlfriend. We have always had a home to live in and enough to eat. In my opinion I have been successful in fulfilling my responsibilities as a parent. Soon it will be on you. You are welcome to stay, but it will no longer be my responsibility to provide for you. You are an adult. I am glad to be here for you, but once you graduate from high school my support is a gift freely given, not my responsibility. You will be responsible for yourself, so if you do not like it here make some plans to be someplace else.”
What I Learned His Senior Year
Things got slightly better after that talk. On a more positive note, my kids’ senior years of high school were growing years for me in two important ways. First, it was very good for my prayer life. When I mentioned this to my son, years later, he smiled and said how sweet it was that I was praying that he would do well. “No, that is not what most of my prayers were about. Most of the time I was praying to survive the time until you left for college without killing you.”
The second lesson was one of self-control. I spent a lot of time in my room and biting my tongue. I reminded myself that it may be the last time my child lived at home. That year would yield some of his most vivid memories of life at home. I did not want him to remember me as a screaming meemie. I thought this many times and it was very good to strengthen my patience and self-control.
Parents, remember this too will pass. When your child was in diapers, it felt like that time would never end. When your child was not sleeping through the night, you thought you would be rocking them to sleep forever; but those stages passed and so will this. It was not too many years before my older son was telling the younger one to listen to me because I had good ideas and that he should appreciate how good he had it at home. It made all of the tongue biting worth it.
If your child is in their final year of high school, good luck. Remember the days may be long, but the year will go by quickly. You have almost made it.
I had two rules that made my life so much easier, you can find them in The Best Parenting Advice Ever and The Second Best Parenting Advice Ever.
How do you make it through those trying parenting times?