During the fall semester of a high schooler's senior's year, there seems to be no end to the details and demands for the college-bound student. From filling out and submitting any number of college applications, to collecting recommendations from teachers, deans and family friends, to writing the "common app essay" to taking one last run at the SAT -- not to mention keeping up with their increasingly challenging senior year assignments -- "busy" doesn't begin to describe a time that can feel more like riding a bucking bronco than following a schedule.
Yet what can often seem to get ignored or go unacknowledged in this whirlwind of activity is the moment it is all building to: that singular day when moms and dads say so long to their seniors, only to find themselves facing significant changes in their own lives.
And that is why, perhaps, much more attention is often paid by families to all the rushing about and keeping up, because to slow down and reflect too much on the changes coming their way might only drive all involved -- parents and seniors alike -- into a host of thoughts and feelings neither may feel ready to address or afford to consider. In truth, they are all facing inevitable changes no one can fully comprehend, anticipate, or perhaps even bear to imagine.
So what does get the attention, most often, is everything else -- the seemingly endless list of to-do's that readily dominate a family's attention and time.
When mom or dad do pause long enough for thoughts of the future to arise, even in the back of their minds, they often will understandably try to understand and view what their senior's experiencing in reference to what they, as seniors, may have gone through during their last year of high school, and what it was like for them.
Did it feel like a jail break? Or did they return home sometime later? Did they yearn to get as far away as possible? Or did they prefer to attend a school closer to home?
Depending on the sometimes complex or conflicted emotions they themselves experienced when it came time for them to leave the nest, those thoughts and feeling are often the basis on how they see their own senior's journey, whether accurate or mistaken.
The senior, on the other hand, may have an entirely different and unique set of exhilarations, fears, anxieties or confusions as to what this time means, trying, as they inevitably are, to understand what this new phase may bring.
It's the journey to which all their lives thus far have pointed to, and there can be, as with all such embarkations, tremendous fear about what this "undiscovered country" will be like. So what they may be feeling can be very different from what their parents might believe or assume.
Much can get lost in translation.
But what is certain for both parent and senior is that a big change is indeed coming, and that in itself sparks an intensity and sense of urgency in all they do together-- or apart.
Seniors can often express their emotions by pushing back at their parents like springs coiling, increasing their tension to produce more force for the coming moment of release.
Parents, on the other hand, may find themselves clamping down on their seniors, sensing that these last, few months may be all the time they have left to exert any influence on the choices or behaviors of their departing child.
And when spring meets clamp, things can quickly get out of hand.
So what can help?
First, a heaping spoonful of understanding. You both are going through a powerful time of significant change -- a kind of mourning process. Yet in some ways, the change, or underlying sadness, may not be quite as significant as it feels.
To be sure, both parent and senior alike are letting go of a close connection, of much daily, common activity, and of daily opportunities to be together -- even if many of them have been heretofore taken for granted.
And since both may likewise be experiencing all kinds of conflicted emotions about what they will soon face, all are best served if either can slow down, at least inwardly, long enough to recognize as much of what they may be feeling, thinking, anticipating or worrying about as possible.
So if you find yourself, or your senior, posturing a bravado meant to assure others all that all is perfectly fine, or sinking into moodiness, sadness or lashing out in bursts of annoyance or anger, take it as an invitation to see what other, unexpressed or unrecognized emotions or may be hiding just off stage.
In doing so, a time that can, admittedly, seem a bit surreal, can also allow for real opportunities for heartfelt celebrations of what deserves recognition and a conscientious release of what can best be let go of or allowed to wait for another time.
Because there will be another time, and more time. And that's what may surprise some parents.
Your child will still need you, and they will, very likely, still be very much a part of your ongoing life long after he or she graduates from high school and college.
So what can a parent do when the last, precious moments of many busy years of effort and work seem to suddenly culminate in caps and gowns? Remember that life goes on, as does your relationship to your child.
While bittersweet, the last year of high school is also a time potentially full of joys and discovery together -- a bond deepened and strengthened by this time of parting.
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