Picking a college. It is amazing how many decisions, emotions and life transitions are contained in that short phrase. Recently I’ve been telling anyone who will listen that our 17-year-old daughter just started preschool yesterday! We have pictures of her in cheerleading outfits from our alma mater, taken when she actually was in preschool, thinking how cute it would be to include them in college applications in the far off distance future. I ask myself how it is possible, despite a logical understanding of the passage of time, that we have arrived at the future in the mere blink of a sleep-deprived eye.
As with so many other transitional milestones, planning for life after high school involves the practical details and the accompanying emotional adjustments. So far, it seems I can reject every school for one reason or another: Too big, too small, too close, too far away, too expensive (that one is legitimate in most cases!), too insistent that my daughter actually live on campus and away from home.
Any parent of a teenager knows that the high school years can actually help you prepare for their eventual move out, since teenagers are often gone for activities, social events, sports, part-time jobs, etc. Yet they are also often home for a quick pep talk, cleaning out of the snack pantry, request for laundry, and at night are collapsing into bed in their own room – at home.
Of course, we jokingly concede that the fear of them never moving out trumps the fear of them actually moving on to the next phase in life. I have learned – in various ways – that avoiding difficult decisions ultimately leads to more stress and sometimes missed opportunities that may never come around again. So, with a forced bravado, I remind my daughter about letters of recommendation and scholarship deadlines, and encourage her to talk through the pros and cons of each school she is considering. I resist the temptation to throw away brochures from schools a plane ride away, and I enlist the help of friends who, along with their children, have survived high school graduation and beyond.
As parents, we comfort ourselves with many things: The knowledge that we have done our best to raise capable young adults, the memories of being there when they struck out with the bases loaded to end the game, the faith that values we have modeled might be remembered when they are caught in tough situations. The occasional double-chocolate brownie can be downright comforting, too.
We aren’t perfect and we don’t expect them to be.
In this next step of the journey beyond high school, we can still be present with them, even if they aren’t coming home for dinner every night or even once a week. We can call, e-mail and text, now living in a generation with new methods of communication popping up constantly. We can hope that, if we do get a text from them that says “miss u”, we will know that they are taking an important step toward separating from us and living on their own.
And we can hope that there is a double-chocolate brownie within reach.
Laura B joined Empathia in 2000 and is an EAP Counselor. Laura has a bachelor’s degree in Sociology from Northwestern University and a master’s in Social Work from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, with a concentration in marriage and family therapy. Prior to joining Empathia, she worked as a case manager with chronically mentally ill adults readjusting to life in the community. Laura enjoys reading, attending kids’ activities and spending time with family.