What Nobody Tells You About Your Teen’s Final Days as High Schooler

You would think that after 18 years of parenting I would truly grasp the notion that when entering a new phase with your child, nothing will go quite as expected. Well, I certainly had expectations of how things would be with my graduating senior; how there would be lots of memorable bonding moments during her final days at home and how our house would be bubbling with excitement as she prepares to embark on her next phase of life. Well, once again, I have been blindsided, and what is happening in my house, with my daughter who graduates tomorrow (but has been done with school for a week) is a far cry from the goodbye bliss I expected.  Maybe some parents are experiencing harmony with their graduate, but from my own experience and in talking with other parents, I have learned that the reality of this transitional time looks and feels more like this:

  1. Graduation week is like landing on another planet. You feel like you are having an out of body experience because you swear that it was yesterday that you were wearing that cap and gown…and as you snap yourself back into your reality, you continue to look at your kid (mine has said to me on more than one occasion, “Mom, why are you staring at me?!”) and you wonder how 18 years could have gone by in a FLASH!
  2. They break up with you…in a very ungraceful way. They act like they are done with you during a time when you feel that you want to be spending more time with them. But their priority is their friends. From making the grad party rounds to just hanging out at friends’ houses, you will not find them anywhere near you. And even if they do breeze in, it is only temporary, and they usually ask for money, or just need to eat or possibly sleep for a while.
  3. They regress. I really wanted to record my daughter today as she tantrummed on the phone and spoke to me like a toddler who wasn’t getting her way. Her tone is often laced with annoyance—annoyance with me that I am still standing in her way to FREEDOM!
  4. If you expect gratitude, you will most likely be disappointed. “Thank you, mom, for 18 amazing years. Thank you for pouring your heart, soul and pocketbook into raising me. I know that I am the person I am today, in large part because of all the love and support you gave me.” Nope, not even close! Did not hear these words and realize that I probably won’t—at least not for a while. What I do hear is more along the lines of, “Mom, you are so annoying! Why are you imposing so many rules right now?! You know I am leaving for camp in 10 days (to work as a counselor) and then will be off to college soon after! I am so excited to get out of here! To not have to follow your rules! UGH! Can I have the car keys?” Harry Chapin was so right on, “See ya later, can I have them please?”
  5. Their feelings of nervousness and anxiety are released in bursts. I had some variation of this conversation at least 10 times in the last month, Me: “How are you feeling about leaving? Do you want to talk about it?” Her: “No, I am great, fine, excited. Can you stop asking me?” However, the 11th time, the response is something like this: “How do you think I am feeling?! I am super anxious! I have to say goodbye to all of my friends and my boyfriend, I have to get all my dorm stuff and I didn’t get into the dorm that I wanted so I don’t even know where I am living or who my roommate will be.

And what if:


I can’t stand my roommate;

I don’t make friends right away;

I can’t find my way to all my classes;

There aren’t yoga classes offered at the campus gym;

I don’t like the dorm food;

I can’t find fresh fruit to make my smoothies;

I don’t get into all the classes I want;

I don’t get into the sorority I want?

I’m super overwhelmed and I’m freaking out!  But I have to be at a grad party in 15 minutes! Bye!”

As I commiserate with other moms of my daughter’s friends about this pivotal time, there is a consensus that most of our daughters are a bit unglued right now, and the push-pull cycle is in full swing—with a heavy emphasis on the push. They are breaking away and it is not pretty.  A friend of mine who has four daughters (her youngest is a recent grad) revealed, “You will have times during this process when you will say under your breath, ‘Yep, you’re leaving soon. Well, don’t let the door hit you in the a**!’”

I admit it. I have felt it. But then 20 minutes later, I come across an old picture that she drew for me when she was five, and I realize that she can do all the tantrumming and breaking up with me that she wants, but she will always be my girl.


  1. You will have to be my personal coach when the time comes!

  2. Very nicely put! I have 1 daughter who is 10 now. But, my son just turned 16 and I am already flash-forwarding two years down the road and… yeah, I get these feelings you have shared here. Did you happen to see the season finale of the tv show “The Middle”?

    • Thanks, Kari. I have not seen the show “The Middle.” Sounds like I should check it out though! I am not much of a tv watcher as I have so much “noise” in my daily life that at the end of the day, all I want is quiet time and to possibly have enough energy to read a few pages of a book :). But I know there are some great and relevant shows out there that I am sure I would appreciate.

  3. Hang in there! I feel I can so relate to your emotions even though I am way behind in time (my oldest is 9 yrs old)

  4. Teenagers are so hard. I will frequently apologize to my mom for pretty much everything I ever said to her between the ages of 11 and 18. I went to boarding school for high school so there were no classmates in my area who had gone to the same graduation that I had. My parents had asked me earlier in the spring if I wanted a party for graduation, and at the time, I was horrified and said no. But when I got home, after this intense graduation week at school, I was so angry with my parents for doing exactly what I had asked them to do. I still remember being so obnoxious during that period that my parents tried to send me to my room… and I was almost 18! I wanted a complete break from my parents, but at the same time, I wanted them to be able to read my mind and know exactly what my needs were at any given time and nurture me completely. Teenagers are literally biologically and neurologically programmed to make their parents’ lives as difficult as possible. It’s a normal developmental stage of separation, but I’m sure that doesn’t make it any less difficult!

    • Oh, thank you Dr. Smock! Hmmm…topic for next book, maybe?!?! Even when we know in our heads that all this stuff is normal, it still rips at the heart strings…Thanks for sharing your experience. It is so hard to imagine you acting like that to your parents. I know I certainly did but you you seem so sweet, calm and collected…I guess we all just grow up and shed our less desirable traits. Although I am still game for a good tantrum every now and then :)! Just ask my husband!

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