I was sitting with several hundred other parents, grandparents, family, and friends on the middle school field and listening to name after name being called. You could see and hear the cheers from family members when their graduate walked across the stage. I tried to imagine everyone’s stories, a similar journey in some ways and probably different in others. There was both happiness and contemplation in many of the parent’s eyes, and generally happiness in the eyes and faces of the graduates.

Then our daughter’s name was called. It was a bit surreal. In a moment, I had flashes of her as baby, toddler, awkward elementary school girl, and then the confident (mostly) adolescent and young adult that was before me. Her smile was huge and she was beaming. She did it. She worked hard to get where she was, and I was both proud and sad. Proud of who she is and what she has become, and sad for the innocent days that have passed and the “real world” of high school that lie ahead.

There are few things that are certain in our world, and one of them is change. Change is inevitable and so too is our kids (and us) growing up (and old). Even if we are aware of this reality, no matter how hard you try to hold on to the moment, it seems to surprise us when it happens. And when it does, we are filled with mixed emotions – happiness, excitement, sorrow, and fear. We want the best for our children. We want them to be safe, happy, have meaningful relationships, and find their place in the world. But do they still need us?

In the past month, children transitioned from pre-school to kindergarten, elementary school to middle school, middle school to high school, high school to college, college to graduate school, and all types of schools, technical and trade, to the real world. Each transition comes with increased expectations for your child, and eventually comes with fewer hands on parenting requirements and need. There is often apprehension from the child (“Can I do it?”) and apprehension for the parent (“Will he be okay?”). I find these questions, or similar ones, occurring at each and every transition throughout our child’s development.

Yes, our kids need us, but in a different way over time. They may need you to be there when they need you, not when you are available. They may need you late at night, but not during the day. They may need you to listen, but not to give them advice or tell them what to do. They may need you to drop them off down the street where nobody can see you. They may need you to pick them up in the middle of the night if they find themselves in an uncomfortable situation. And they may just need to know you are there for them whenever, for whatever reason.

You are needed, but it is no longer the same. Now the more tricky part, what do you do with yourself since you may have more time, mentally and physically, on your hands? You are transitioning too. You may find yourself feeling like you have been demoted or let go in your parenting job. You may find yourself worrying about what your child will be exposed to in middle school, high school, or college. You may find yourself worrying because your mind is working overtime and the world has become a crazy place where bad things happen to good people.

If you have any of these thoughts or feelings, it is okay. This is normal. You are in transition, like all of us parents are. We learn through experience.  Our first child teaches us the way, and the others add to the lessons. Allow yourself time to get used to your new reality. Allow your child the space needed to get ready for their next developmental challenge. Do your best to manage your anxious and worrisome thinking. Remember, you can only control what you can and have to let the rest unfold. Talk to your child about what lies ahead for them since you have gone through their next stage. If they listen, even better!

I gave my daughter a big hug when she met us after graduating. I just hugged her and she hugged me back. I didn’t have any words to say at that moment – just a long hug to let her know how proud I was of her and that I loved her. She gave it back to me in silence. I could feel it. She later told me, “Dad, I am so ready for high school.” I believe her and know she is ready. I am not sure I am ready for her to be in high school, but there is nothing I can do about it except breathe deeply, manage my worrisome thoughts, and get ready for the next of many stages she and I will walk through together, and separately.

About the Author

Dr. Dan Peters, Ph.D.

Daniel B. Peters, Ph.D., is a psychologist, author, and co-founder of Parent Footprint, an interactive parenting education community and website.

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