The push and pull of letting go

Managing the many emotions you will have when your child leaves home



May and June are chaotic months for most parents. This is especially true for parents of graduating seniors, whose entire year has revolved around helping their soon-to-be graduate decide what they will do after high school, whether that’s a gap year, military, work, travel or college. 

By the time graduation rolls around, parents are exhausted and emotionally drained. Witnessing their senior go through all of the lasts in high school — last prom, last game or last performance — can be difficult for parents. Being excited and sad at the same time is an experience most parents of high school graduates can relate to.

And for many, the experience is not over as the next several months are consumed with making plans for their graduate to go off to their new life.

Preparing them to leave and letting go is a push and pull for parents. Losing the child they once held in their arms and snuggled with can be painful. This may be offset by excitement for the experiences they are about to have and increased anxiety about how they will do when they are on their own.

And all the while parents are pinging back and forth between sadness, anxiety and excitement, the new adult is experiencing a sense of freedom, excitement for what is to come and the fear of being alone.

How do parents and their new adults get through the months between graduation and their new life? It is important for parents to recognize their own emotions.

It is normal and healthy to be sad one moment, then excited, then fearful. Talking about your feelings and helping your child identify what they are feeling is helpful. When parents can recognize and understand their emotions and coping skills, they are more likely to see them in their children. Identifying these with your children is a great way to help them understand how they are behaving. They might not immediately agree with you but they will inevitably think about how they are acting and what you said.

Lean into your children as much as you can. Even if they are rejecting you or acting disrespectful or agitated, try to be as calm and positive as possible. Many parents and kids unintentionally pull away as a form of coping and protection. Not knowing this is happening can lead to increased conflict and tension.

Try as hard as you can to show your excitement for their new life journey and let them know how much confidence you have in them. If they know you are there to help them, they will come to you for advice and support.

Finally, take care of yourself. The loss around what your life has been as a full-time parent night is huge. Lean on your partner or friends for support. Do things that make you happy and fill your time with activities that include self-care.    

Tracey Tucker is Executive Director of New Heights: Adventures for Teens and a licensed mental health counselor at Tradeport Counseling Associates in Portsmouth.

More Parenting in the Moment columns by Tracey Tucker

At the finish line

Senior year is perilous for both students and parents

Transitioning from teen to adult

How to navigate the changes ahead

Supporting gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered teens

Support for youth revealing their sexual orientation is critical

Struggling for perfection

Nobody’s perfect but some teens think they should be
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