Life is full of transitions. As a parent, it begins when your child is born and it continues throughout the years – when they go to daycare, preschool, Kindergarten, elementary school, middle school, high school and then on to life as a young adult. While each transition period has its own set of unique challenges, the transition after high school graduation is a particularly big one, especially if your child leaves home.
Ask any parent what it’s like to have a child leave home for the first time and you will hear about a range of emotions – happiness, anxiety, sadness, excitement, uncertainty and fear. Most parents will agree that, above all else, it’s a really, really hard transition.
Life after high school graduation is as much of a roller coaster ride for parents as it is for the high school graduate. The excitement and joy about opportunities awaiting your child are mixed with the waves of nostalgia and a sense of loss. Like your child, you are being pulled between the past, present and future.
Being a parent is a full-time job that lasts your entire life. Just because your child is a young adult now doesn’t mean that you don’t care or worry about them just as much as you did when they were newborns. This is also not when you completely abdicate and let go. Young adults still need their parents. You are not completely out of the picture; it’s just your role shifts from being a manager to a CEO.
For years as a parent, you supervised, micro-managed and organized the day-to-day everything for your child. You established expectations and provided consequences and rewards for your child’s choices and behavior. These are all functions of a “Manager”.
Now, you must trade in your manager hat for one that reads “CEO”. Effective CEOs are those who believe in their people and consult them. CEOs can be heard saying things like, “I wonder what would happen if you tried this,” or “I can see you’ve thought that plan out well. Check-in tomorrow and let me know how that goes.” This is a time when kids still need their parents to guide them, to mentor them, to give them feedback, to be a sounding board and to listen.
Here are a few “Don’t Go There” tips for any of you who have recently been promoted to CEO or will be at the end of this school year:
- Don’t make their leaving all about you.
- Don’t beat yourself up wondering if you prepared your child well enough for life after high school.
- Don’t say, “These are the best years of your life!” Be open with them about the highs and lows.
- Don’t rescue your child. Coach and empower them.
- Don’t second-guess your child. Trust them. You will undermine their ability to make decisions.
- Don’t monopolize their lives. Remember KISS (Keep It Short & Sweet) with texts and emails reminding them of your unconditional love and support.
- Don’t talk too much. When you do connect in-person or through calls and video chats, ask open-ended questions and listen more than you speak.
- Don’t intervene or react when your child calls home with a problem. There will be conflict and stress. Express your support and give your children time to solve their own problems.
- Don’t feel guilty. There are “new beginnings” and adventures awaiting both you and them in this transition. It is okay to look forward to this new chapter in your life with excitement as well.
- Don’t do wake up calls! Adult children need to structure their time on their own, including sleeping, studying, working, errands, eating, and life in general.
- Don’t turn their bedroom into a home gym. The graduate’s room is their “home base” – try not to change it very much during his or her first year away. They need to still feel a sense of security and identity at home.
- Don’t focus on outcomes. Instead, focus on embracing challenges, learning from mistakes, persistence and effort.
- Don’t be an open ATM for your child. Talk about finances and set a budget.
- Don’t make surprise visits. Be respectful of your child and their newfound independence. Plan ahead with proactive communication.
- Don’t forget…your child will always need you!
Remember, you are still their parent, but your job description has been tweaked. Look at your role now as less the protector, disciplinarian and provider and more the coach, consultant and CEO. It’s a promotion for both you and for your child! Enjoy!