Across the country, high school seniors, my oldest son included, are proudly marching forth to receive their diplomas and begin their lives as adults. As our children transition to the next phase of their lives – whether it is going off to college or looking for a job – we, as parents, need to recognize that the relationship we share with our child is also beginning a new phase.
I noticed a shift in dynamics when my son began applying to universities. He was accepted at UC Santa Barbara, San Diego State University and several other UC campuses. He failed to see the $26,000 price tag on UCSB through the glare of excitement in his eyes, and when I suggested he consider the slightly more affordable SDSU, the shine in his eyes dimmed perceptibly.
Thus began a painful dialogue about the practicalities of attending college in San Diego where he already had a job and support system versus the oceanfront Santa Barbara campus in the middle of nowhere.
I argued from the perspective of practicality and experience, while my son countered with the infinite “anything is possible” perspective of youth. Inside, I was torn: I wanted to support his dreams, but I also know that dreams only come true with careful planning and realistic goals.
I hope that I have raised my son to be an intelligent decision-maker. I’ve tried to teach him the importance of evaluating the consequences before making a choice. I’ve modeled careful consideration, or in other words, look before you leap. But my decision-making skills come with 40-some years of learning the hard way.
As our children graduate and go off into the world, we will no longer be there to monitor their decisions. We will learn about their choices when they make that obligatory phone call home each Sunday.
As parents of graduates, we must learn to accept their decisions, supporting them when things don’t work out and congratulating them when all goes according to plan. We must learn to gently make suggestions without making our children feel as though they are incompetent, when all the while our goal is to spare them heartache and pain.
These young 17- and 18-year-olds have become our peers. They will take their place in the world as employees, business owners, friends and acquaintances. Whether my child or yours, we must treat them as adults.