graduation milestones

4 Ways to Survive Your Child's High School Graduation

9:31 AMHeather

49 days.

I have it set on the Big Day app on my phone.

49 days now.

Until my firstborn graduates from high school.

This seems unfathomable to me. Which is ridiculous to say, seeings how I've had eighteen years working toward this exact goal.

Yet, as with most milestones in life, when benchmarks actually arrive, it feels surreal. While I've felt a subtle melancholy ache all school year, this mama's heart is on overload now from all the feels, particularly as I pour over photographs for all the senior events. Oh, the nostalgia that has hit as I've relived so many moments these last few weeks.

The truth of this season, between the end of childhood and the beginning of adulthood, is that it includes an element of grief. It's a season of good-byes for us as parents and also for our children. Yes, these good-byes lead to new hello's. But, there is still an ending that is part of all of this. Our seniors may indeed feel unsettled as they struggle with these unexpected moments of emotion. 

We (including our children) don't always give ourselves permission to lean into this senior-year-grief, for fear perhaps that we are diminishing the value of the next good thing. But, I say we must have grace for ourselves and encourage our children to do the same. We don't have to make sense of the strange triggers to the feeling of sadness. We do well with learning to co-exist with all the feelings, and sitting with each other and our children as we all navigate our way through this.

The baffling question I keep asking myself in the middle of all the feelings is how do I reconcile the incredible excitement and thrill I'm feeling with the fact WE MADE IT along with the conflicting emotions of bracing for releasing my child into the great big world? 

How does one do this well? Because that's really my end goal. I want to savor all the moments and let him feel my applause. I want to give a fair nod to all the moments that have built up to this.  I want to be genuine in this, allowing the tears and figuring out how to live with the polar opposite feelings of pride with, let's be honest, the sadness. 

I want to be as present as I possibly can be. For that is the one piece of advice I've received repeatedly. Be as present as possible. Thus, I actually began this school year with that intention, clearing out other commitments in order to make room for the year of my senior.

All that being said, I am now endlessly talking myself off the ledge with this final countdown.

If you're in the same boat, I'm sharing my thoughts with you on rallying toward the finish line of high school and surviving graduation well.

Image courtesy of Unsplash

1. Dr. Seuss had it right. Last Friday was the Senior Pep Rally at our high school. The walls were filled with banners proclaiming, "End of an Era," and "Class of 2017." And there, on one end of the gym, a huge banner shared the wisdom of Dr. Seuss: "Don't cry because it's over. Smile because it happened." 

Yes. That. It's on constant loop in my brain. Smile because it happened. Be grateful for all the memories and things we've endured to get here. As I've sorted through all the photos, I've told myself repeatedly-- "Be thankful. For all the memories we've made, and all the things we've survived that I thought would never end -- such as projectile vomiting or repeated ear infections or the battle to learn to read."

I can stop and dwell on things I wish I'd handled differently or on those adorable stages that I miss. But I refuse. 

I refuse to let all the joy of this moment be stolen. Instead, I choose to be grateful. I'm preaching some serious truth to my emotional heart to remind it to choose joy for this season and to thank the Lord for his incredible grace that got us here and will see us through all the seasons to come.

And thank goodness I was looking at that sign and reminding myself of its truth before the dadgum "slow-mo" skit where each organization acts out a scene then waves goodbye at the end of the pep rally. 

There, in the right corner, were those amazing senior soccer players whom I've become rather fond of, especially the one wearing the #13 jersey. Then, the entire skit ended with a T-shirt being held up that said "Warrior." It was a tribute to the brave classmate, Jaydan, who lost his battle with cancer a few months ago.

And through my tears, I told myself. Smile. Because I get to see my baby walk the stage. That is a distinct privilege to not take for granted. Smile because of all the moments, all the seasons, all the stages that got us to this point. What a treasure they have all been!

2. Surrender is the name of the game. I readily admit that part of my conflicted feelings about these next 49 days is the reality that I will be losing control. Yes, in a few months time (four months and 3 days to be exact), I will be leaving him at college. And I shall miss his sweet face around this house. I will miss how he asks if there's anything he can do to be helpful, and I will miss seeing his smile everyday. But, at the root of that angst is also the reality that I am losing control. 

Which is honestly ridiculous because control is a facade anyway. These kids with whom we have been entrusted were wired with this thing called free will. And we are their authority and their protection, but at the end of the day, I cannot force my children to go the way I'd like them to go. At the end of the day, I have to surrender my children to the One who knit them together.

And listen, I refuse to operate out of fear. I refuse to approach this milestone and transition being bullied by fear of the unknown or worry about the what-ifs. Fear and worry are rooted in unbelief, and the fact is that if God is who he says he is, then I must leave the Sovereignty thing to him and surrender, trusting him to be good and faithful and sufficient.

3. Parenting isn't Over. I laugh at my younger self and how I used to think if I could only get my kids to 18 and college, then my job would be done.

Balderdash.

News flash for every mom out there. This warning may be a bit late, but the truth is that once a mom, always a mom. 

Parenting is NOT over when they leave the house. This hit me hard when I walked a difficult road with a friend whose 30-something child was in a bad situation. The reality is that they will always be our babies.

"I'll love you forever, I'll like you for always, as long as I'm living, my baby you'll be."

Remember that book? True that our role as mom changes as our children grow and attend college and then branch out as actual independent adults. 

However, the reality of always being a mom is also the great encouragement we seek in this season. We will always play a key role in our children's lives. Our parenting isn't, in fact, over as they cross the stage to grab that diploma or as we drive away from college, with one less family member. Our parenting is actually just getting good. 

Because all the seeds we've planted, all these years, and all the ways we've sown in tears in our heartaches for them -- well, we are starting to see the harvest. We are just about to start reaping the fruit and the wonder of watching our children become adults. 

We can take a step back and enjoy a relationship with them in a new way. We can forge a close bond, adult-to-adult. I'm so encouraged watching my sister's relationship blossom in new ways with her two college-age children. 

We can begin to move from the referee in the middle of the field, constantly throwing the penalty flag, to becoming the coach on the sideline, watching them work out the plays we've taught them. 

Oh, I believe with all my heart that as my child begins what will be the longest chapter of his life (adulthood), I'm going to have a million things to celebrate and enjoy. 

4. Continuing our biggest task. There is some serious family folklore about my Granny's odd quirks and controlling ways. But there is one legacy that she left that I am seeking to embrace more and more.

She was one heck of a prayer warrior. 

That lady prayed about anything and everything. And while she wrestled with some hard things all of her life, she certainly took advantage of the opportunities to pray. 

It's one of our biggest tasks as mothers and wives and friends and members of the body of Christ. To storm the Throne Room of heaven with all the concerns weighing on our heart. To stand in the gap for all of our loved ones, and even those we don't know around the world who need our prayer cover. 

Prayer is a powerful weapon and it truly does change things. We can see how sacred and important the act of intercession is when we look in Romans 8 to see how the Spirit intercedes for us, and again in Hebrews 7, as Jesus is described as "living to intercede for us."

As image bearers of God, made in the likeness of the Triune God, one of our most important tasks is to intercede with the Father over the concerns of our heart. Revelations 5 paints the picture of the prayers of God's people being an incense presented before God, rising to him, as an offering. 

Prayer is a gift and privilege. It is no small thing to be given access and an invitation to "approach God's throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace in our time of need," (Hebrews 4:16, NIV).

And so, I believe that my best posture to approach this major milestone and transition in life is simply on my knees. Or face flat to the ground, prostrate, pleading with the Father on behalf of my children, who are and were his children first.

This is, indeed, a bittersweet time. It is also a glorious time, where our children are on the cusp of some pretty amazing things ahead. And so, I will choose to set my gaze longer on gratitude about the harvests to come than I will about the sadness of what is gone. And rooting myself in prayer, I will keep cheering him on, president of his fan club, and watching and waiting for God to move through his life and answer my prayers for him.

What a great privilege it is, isn't it? These children that God has placed with us. And our front row seat to watch them graduate into adulthood and chase all the things that are yet to be.

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