By Cindy Bleuler Tucker
School started in August in the greater Chattanooga area. The Facebook News Feed was inundated with pictures of the children of my friends starting the new school year- first day of kindergarten, first day of middle school, etc.
And the proud yet bittersweet posts of parents of high school seniors- the first day of the last year…
The senior year of high school is the year of last firsts. Last first football game, cheer practice, play practice, youth group, chapel, semester, report card…you get the picture. After all the years of other children’s senior nights and senior proms, it is suddenly your child’s turn. Time and money flies and increases exponentially as the year marches on. It is a never-ending outflow as checks are written (or debit cards run) for uniforms, class trips, senior pictures, college trips, SAT and ACT tests, college applications, senior class trip, prom, graduation announcements and caps and gowns. It is a stressful, emotion filled year for parent and child.
As a parent, you both dread them leaving home, yet hope they will spread their wings and land in the right place next year. After 4 years of telling your student grades matter, you begin to see the results of their labor or negligence. Will he or she get in that good college? Will they find a school they will feel comfortable with? Will they get in any college? How many times do they need to retake that test? Will they find a job they like? Will they get a scholarship? Where will the money come from? Will they be ok?
During my daughter’s senior year, I would go in my her room and think: this is the last year she will live here every night and I will see her every day. The memories of play dates and field trips and car pools flood my thoughts. How will I let go?
Your child is going through emotional upheaval also. They know that a schedule and way of life that has been a constant for 12 years is about to be over. Abruptly. One minute he or she is a part of the senior class and the next a high school graduate watching former classmates scatter in many directions. They may soon be leaving family, friends, and all that is familiar to enter a new world in a new place. They fluctuate from counting the days until they leave home to wondering how they will survive without mom and dad. Even children not immediately leaving home will see childhood friends go away. Will they make new friends? How do they say goodbye?
As parents how do we make this last year at home, the last year of childhood, count?
Minimize harsh words
The words you both regret will happen. In the emotions of life changing events, tempers flare. Sometimes you see reminders of the terrible twos in your 18-year-old. You have to take a step back and realize they are trying to cope with leaving home. The future seems uncertain-waiting to find out what school they will be going to or what they will be doing after high school. And you, the parent, losing it as you try to manage finances and your student constantly changing her mind. As she reminds you repeatedly (not using her indoor voice) that she is an adult and you can’t tell her what to do, you have to remember that you ARE the adult and can’t scream back. Sometimes the best thing to do is say, “I can’t discuss this right now or make a decision right now. Let’s take a step back and discuss it tomorrow.” If you have that luxury. If not, take a deep breath and calmly and logically try to be reasonable. If you scream or you aren’t reasonable, you can go back and tell your child, “I’m sorry I lost my temper,” or “I’m sorry I said that.” Sometimes, you get an apology, too.
It may be a knock on the bedroom door when you just fallen asleep or in the wee hours of the night and you need to get up early. It may be during the season finale of your favorite show, or the last 2 minutes of the ball game. It may be while you’re working on a project or trying to clean the house. It doesn’t matter. When he is ready to talk, stop and listen. This is probably the last year you will have this much time with him. Besides, it will prepare you for the midnight calls from your college student who finally found time in his busy schedule to call mom and dad. Some of the best conversations with him will be at inconvenient times. Conversations where he sorting things out, trying to make a decision, or just telling you how he feels.
Talk When You Can
The flip side of this is when you need to talk, try to plan carefully. Catch them between activities. Take her to lunch or ask her to help you cook dinner or go with you to run errands. Knock on the door of her bedroom and ask, “Can I come in for a few minutes?” You can even make a talk date, like “We haven’t gotten to talk lately. How about Sunday after you get back from lunch?”
Sometimes you can only ask so many questions and you have to calculate his frustration level. The terseness of the reply is an indication of whether you can ask anymore. That is why it is so important to take advantage of those opportunities when he is opening up to you to not ask why questions but what do you think and how do you feel questions.
Sometimes you have to ask some really tough questions. Make sure you are ready to hear the answer and respond in a way that encourages further conversation. Never be afraid to ask important questions.
In a year of lasts, this may be the last year you have so many opportunities to pray face to face with your child. These are the most special moments. Make this a priority. When your child is stressing about a test or relationship problems, tell her-“let’s stop and pray about this” or” I’d like to pray for you…” Pray with confidence that God will lead your child as they begin this next chapter of their life. Always intercede for your child. In the midst of this whirlwind year, that’s the most important thing you can do.
Next Week: The College Freshman