Your firstborn has graduated. What an exciting and emotional time of life. You've successfully parented (hopefully and for the most part) your first child. At least you've gotten them to this point in one piece (again...hopefully and for the most part)!
I thought you might like to know what to expect in the days ahead. I know every child and every family dynamic is different, but having gone through this four times myself and watching it countless times as a youth minister's wife...I have just a few pointers.
- Your man-child is going to start feeling very independent. This is a normal part of the letting go process. And actually, they're probably feeling more insecure than you really know. This is one of the hardest struggles in your relationship. If your child is going off to college, you're not going to have a clue (for the most part) about what they're doing. Their wings are about to be stretched and new freedom is about to be theirs. This was your goal all along--to shoot that arrow you've trained, stretched, and shaped into the world.
- You will probably panic at some point about not having taught them enough. Enough about managing finances, enough about God, enough about studying, enough about abstinence, etc., etc. I know I did. And God gently reminded me that my job was to get them to this point. And now it was His turn. He takes His job very seriously...and He's not panicked.
- You will probably experience some of the most extreme emotions of your life--a virtual rollercoaster. It's hard to let go. You're excited for them because of the adventures you know they're about to experience, but you don't know what to do with that empty bedroom (unless a younger sibling has already claimed it!). Your family dynamics are about to change. I encourage you to enter the thrill your graduate is experiencing. It was hard for me to be sad when they were so excited!!
- Please, please, please don't do everything for them. If they haven't already had to stretch their negotiating necks out there, now's the time. They need to make decisions on what to take to college (this skill will serve them for years to come), which meal ticket to buy, how to pack their car, which classes to take (and drop), finding a roommate, buying books, talking to admissions, college counselors, dorm advisers, and professors. Do not be their alarm clock!! Give them a heads-up that they're on their own. If you are doing all of those things for your kids, you are being talked about by those professionals....I know. (I have 5 family members who work/teach at a college.)
- Realize that these are the years where your kids are going to be making their faith their own. To this point, you've probably "highly encouraged" your kids to be at church and participate in the youth group. They've heard everything you've taught and believe about God and have kind of ridden on the coattails of your belief system. But now they have the freedom to make their own decisions about church attendance or getting involved in a campus ministry. Most are going to question everything they've ever learned. This is normal. They're having to make their faith their own. Give them space and freedom to do this--all while diligently praying for them.
- Your kids are going to make mistakes now that they have all of this freedom. Some are going to mess up badly. The best advice I can give you is this: Keep the Doors Open!!! Let them know you love them unconditionally and that you'll always be there with open arms. Show them how to find their way back to God and let them know they're forgiven. This doesn't mean they may not have to suffer consequences...but they need to know you will always love them.
- Having said "Keep the Doors Open," I'd also tell you to be ready to lay down the law if needed. One of our kids moved out of our house to live with his friends in a college town and still didn't have a job after three months. He was told, "Either get a job or come home!" (He wasn't going to school.) Our kids attending college knew that if they had failing grades, their next year was "on them." Boundaries are good...still. You also are probably still holding some of the purse strings. Use it. This will be great leveraging power.
- This fact is reliable with most kids: The first summer after their freshman year at college is tough when they come home. They've had a whole year with new-found freedom and independence. They know more than you do at this point. ;) The good news is it probably won't be this way the next summer. (Oh! And get ready for all their stuff---it grows!)
- Every parent wants to see their child succeed. Send them notes of encouragement, praise, and blessing. Send them care packages. They like tangible things--not just text messages. Fix their favorite meals when they come home (like you'll have a choice!). Expect to spend money when you go visit them--they're going to be ready for some good, free food! Pray for them consistently. Do all of these things...but don't overwhelm them. You'll see them peddling backwards if you push. They need room and space to grow.
- Realize that you're about to gain a friend. As soon as this "expansion process" is complete, you're going to have a brand new relationship. And it's sweet...oh, so sweet!! This is what you've been waiting for and dreaming about. THIS, my friend, is your graduation.