An Open Letter to the Parent Crying at Graduation (From a mom who survived it)
[This article by Kami Gilmour is an excerpt from a chapter in her best-selling book, Release My Grip: Hope for a Parent's Heart as Kids Leave the Nest and Learn to Fly
When my daughter entered her senior year of high school a few years ago, I was a complete train wreck.
Seriously: I. Was. Not. Okay.
I couldn’t fathom how the years had slipped away so quickly and we were already approaching this huge milestone. I desperately wanted time to slow down to delay the inevitable “last time moments.”
I wandered through her entire senior year with tear-fogged eyes, paralyzed by grief at the thought of letting her go. I even quit my job so I could try to make up for the guilt and regret of all the moments I was certain I'd missed.
Nostalgia was my nemesis, and I was tormented by my constant reflection of the past and a mantra that my heart kept whispering..."How did this all go by so fast?"
Memories of her growing up repeated in my head like clips from a sappy movie, culminating in visions of the farewell scene as we dropped her off at college. Would we be in her dorm room? Would we be driving away watching her in the review mirror as she waved from the residence hall steps? Would she cry? Would her dad cry? Would I even be able to breathe?
So I cried through her entire senior year.
And then I cried through graduation. (You can hear it on our video recording.)
I cried during her college orientation that summer. (Total meltdown in the middle of a parent seminar.)
I cried and hugged a random mom in the checkout line at Target because both of our carts were full of dorm essentials. (I was so thankful to know I wasn't the only one.)
I cried as we packed up her boxes and loaded the car. (No one ever mentioned how painful that part is!)
And when the moment I'd been dreading finally arrived, I cried SO, SO hard as I hugged her one last time in the parking lot of her quad and said goodbye.
Of course I also cried the whole way home…and for a few weeks after she’d left when I walked by her empty bedroom or saw her vacant chair at the dinner table.
But gradually the crying ceased.
That “day of letting go” had come and gone, and I had survived.
But more importantly, my daughter had survived leaving home, and she was thriving in college. She loved her new friends, her classes, the campus life and the freedom of this new season.
And hearing her share about her new life filled me with so much joy that I forgot to be sad.
Fast forward several years—she’s a junior in college and studying abroad for six months and now her brother is graduating from high school and heading off to college this fall.
And shocker: Crying isn’t happening for me this time around. (Ummm…at least not as much.)
I’ve realized the secret to surviving my kids leaving the nest is to be fully present with them, looking forward to the future through the lens of their life, not backwards through the lens of my life.
I'd been so preoccupied by the suffocating vice-grip of mommy-mourning of what I was "losing" that I hadn't paid much attention to how exciting this new phase of life was going to be for her.
Truth? This season is about them—NOT about me. (Okay, everything with my kids is still a little bit about me, but graduation is certainly not my spotlight.)
Watching my daughter grow into the amazing young woman she’s becoming during college has been a true joy. She’s had ups and downs during these years, but it’s been evident how her independence has helped her grow into her true self.
Remembering this helps me come back to what is real and what is now—and find relief in being present in this sweet season of her young adult life as I put my trust in God's plans for her future.
I'm not beating myself up for feeling the pains of letting go—because they are REAL and it is HARD to embrace this transition. I will NEVER make it through these times without some breakdowns. But I don't want my tears to overshadow milestones that deserve to be celebrated with joy and pride.
And now it’s my son’s turn.
As his high school graduation and college departure looms ahead on the calendar, I refuse to torment myself with visions of our last goodbye when we drop him off at his dorm. And I refuse to twist the memories of his chubby toddler hands cupping my face as he professed his love for me “to the moon and back” into a motherhood-meltdown where I'm stuck in grief longing for days gone by.
I love him, I believe in him, and I'm excited for him—so this time around I’m focusing my heart on savoring the details of these last few months with him, and visions of him thriving in college and growing into a wonderful adult I can’t wait to get to know better.
As my son leaves the nest, letting go of him will be tough. But he'll be back. And then he'll leave again. And again. This season of young adulthood will adopt a “new normal” with the rhythm of coming and going.
What I know for sure as a "veteran" mother of a graduating kid is this simple truth: The finish line is just a myth.
Parenthood is a life-long journey—and it’s also a life-long (often-painful) practice of letting one season go as a new season begins. It begins postpartum and doesn’t end on our kid’s 18th birthday…or their high school graduation…or when they leave for college…or when they graduate from college…or when they get married…or even when they become parents themselves.
Parenthood will never be over, and God will never be done with them. It’ll just be a different season.
And I want to be present for it.
Written by Kami Gilmour, mom of five teen and young adult kids. She's the author of a best-selling book that chronicles her imperfect journey of parenting in this season with a refreshing sense of honesty, humor, and practical insights: Release My Grip: Hope for a Parent's Heart as Kids Leave the Nest and Learn to Fly.