University Student Hats Graduation Photo

Advice to the Parents of this Year’s Graduates

As our children graduate, parents need to consider what is next.

Dear parents of graduates,

Congratulations! From your post on Facebook, it is clear that you are filled with pride that your little one, or not so little one, has made it to this moment. They have worked hard and learned much. You have watched them struggle and succeed, and it is wonderful to celebrate the effort and growing.

When you take a break from the parties and the ceremonies and the posts on social media, I have a question for you. I’m not too worried about what your child will do next, because it seems likely that you have thought that through already and unless they are big enough to do it on their own, you have a plan in place. But I’m wondering, have you thought about how this graduation will change how you parent?

Our children moving up is as clear a reminder as we can get that they have mastered more skills and grown in competence. What this means for them: more challenges ahead and more opportunities. What it means for us, is that we need to take a minute, assess our game and come up with a revised plan.

You should, of course, keep loving them, keep enjoying their company. But now is also a good time to think about how you might want to make some changes to your relationship. I know you can remember a time when for the better and worse parenting meant doing it all for this person and no distinction between need and love. But now they are more capable, and with any luck, they are nearing that hoped-for goal of not needing you but still loving you.

The educational system is set up with clear guidelines or expectations so that you can look ahead and understand what will be demanded of your child in this next stage; not so parenting. Often we find ourselves either stumbling to change our parenting game when our children tell us explicitly — don’t hold my hand, that is for babies — or implicitly — not calling us from college — that things need to change. Or sometimes we are so glad that we no longer have to wash their hair, drive them to school or pay their bills that we fail to consider how these practical changes might impact our relationship.

There is no way to fully anticipate what the next stage of parenting will demand of us but even so, asking the question can help move us forward with intention. This won’t eliminate the awkward moments and challenges but it can help us plan for the outcomes we would like to see. Envisioning the outcomes is no guarantee of success but it is a starting point.

Some of those outcomes may be practical, like teaching your child to fish or pay their own bills. If that is the case, make a plan, buy a fishing rod, sit down with the bank statement and spreadsheet. Some of those outcomes may be less tangible, like being able to have honest conversations about difficult topics or being able to enjoy sitting in silence together. These goals too benefit from planning and setting aside time and intention. Imagine what, ultimately, a successful relationship with your adult child might look like, and begin to parent towards that vision.

Let your child know that you are making changes because you recognize that they are growing. Let them know that you respect their capacity and skill and are looking forward to having them take on more and look forward to being there as they do so.

As you snap that last final shot with your graduate, give yourself a pat on the back for having parented them to this moment. Then take a step back and consider where you will both go next.

May you go from strength to strength,

Rabbi Ruth

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