THE BLOG
05/16/2014 04:36 pm ET Updated Jul 16, 2014

Preparing Yourself for Your Child's Graduation

© 2011 Dorann Weber via Getty Images

Let's face it; when we envisioned having children, the last thing we parents had on our minds was a graduating teenager! Most of us thought about things like Little League, piano recitals and teaching them to ride a bike. Launching an 18-year-old into the real world? Not so much.

It all happens so fast, too. Whether we're gazing at photos or recalling distant memories, we're struck that the time flew by like the blink of an eye.

The fact is, graduation is just as big of a deal for us as it is for them. After all, it's THE defining moment of parenthood, isn't it? We look ahead with anticipation toward their future, while also reflecting on the job we did in preparing them. Did we cover the bases and earn a parenting 4.0? Is our graduate ready to soar and fulfill his or her dreams? Will our relationship endure? Can we truly let go with confidence?

That's when we realize... we were never raising a child so much as we were raising a future adult. The last 18 years of parenting have all been leading up to this crucial moment: the launch. And while we need to make sure our teen is well prepared, we have just as much work to do to prepare ourselves for this milestone. That's because we're facing a pivotal transition of our own -- moving both practically and emotionally from the driver's seat to the passenger seat in our teen's life. Their future and the health of our relationship depend on it!

Certain parents handle this milestone more easily than others. Those who struggle most tend to: be overly invested in their children's performance and outcomes; allow their role as nurturing parent to dominate their identity; adopt parenting styles that "helicopter," enable and live vicariously; and fear the uncertain environment facing their graduate. It can be especially challenging for the chief nurturer, usually mothers, who experience a deeper void after the launch (especially when facing an empty nest!).

Make no mistake; teens pick up on these tendencies, interpreting them as a vote of no confidence. Parents' fears can easily rub off, and this can be devastating to their teen's self-confidence during this major transition, often resulting in young adults having feelings like: a fear of failure, guilt, insecurity, unworthiness, entitlement and manipulation. Parents need to be especially attentive to these risks when preparing for the launch.

While each graduation is different -- both for teen and parent -- there are several confidence-building strategies that help position you for a successful launch:

1. Incrementally release control and treat them like adults. Allow greater privileges accompanied by greater responsibilities. Envision releasing an eagle to soar versus a kite to control.

2. Develop strong relationship capital through mutual trust and respect, affirmation and encouragement, understanding and fun times together. And when communicating, it pays to think "share with" rather than "talk to."

3. Help them build a solid leadership foundation and share wisdom for their key life decisions (e.g., college, career, family, and finances).

4. Accept that their dreams, preferences and ways may be different from your own and that you are not ultimately responsible for their choices. Remember, they will make mistakes just like you did! It's part of life.

5. Pursue a rich, diverse life that extends beyond your role as parent. Plan how you may use your newfound freedom to explore new interests, etc. Empower yourself as you empower your teen!

6. Write a keepsake letter communicating your unconditional love, appreciation of their uniqueness and value, and unbridled belief in them and their future.

7. Understand that some feelings of regret over parenting mistakes and missed opportunities are normal. No parent is perfect and we all wish we had some do-overs! Remember to extend to yourself grace and forgiveness, just as you offer it to them.

In the end, the better we prepare ourselves for graduation, the better we will prepare our sons and daughters for a successful future. Through our modeling, nurturing, training and relationship building, our children can become the well-rounded, self-confident young adults they are meant to be. You can take pride in playing your part. With a solid foundation, you will also enjoy a new and mature relationship in the adult years. They still need you, but in different ways just as it should be. And you will marvel at the adult you once brought into this world. There isn't a feeling like it.