The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

May 31, 2013

Graduation, changes that come with it, can be tough for families

POINT BLANK: By John Blankenship
For The Register-Herald

— Nothing can be more traumatic than a lump in the throat at high school graduation.

Every year at this time, seniors and their parents are gearing up for a major change in their lives and their relationships.

As these soon-to-be graduates make their decisions about life in the future, many already have struck a blow for independence. It’s a transition that can be difficult for even the most understanding of parents.

Moms and dads know that phones and e-mails are communication links, reaching even remote college outposts in distant cities. However, it’s not the same as having a child sleeping at the top of the stairs.

“We’ll be all right,” dad says to mom at bedtime. “It’s not so far away.”

No one remembers mom wearing dark glasses to the grocery store to hide the fact that she had been crying the week her son left for college.

No one remembers mom saying she was “totally excited” about dropping her daughter off at the dormitory.

Hardly anyone noticed when she pulled off the highway and took refuge in a Burger King. No sooner had she slid into a booth when another red-eyed woman spotted her, came over and asked, “Have you also just left someone?” Sometimes the only comfort is when two strangers meet to share their sense of emptiness.

For some families, the sense of impending loss and mourning can start weeks before graduation.

In fact, many psychologists and counselors recognize the last year of high school as a traumatic and psychologically difficult time for families.

Most school counselors are aware of the need for coping strategies for departing seniors, too.

After all, the graduates are making life-altering choices, whether it is to join the military, join the workforce or continue their education.

Saying goodbye to familiar hallways and high school sweethearts can diminish some of the joys of ending the senior year.

Still, most parents and children handle the transition well, taking pride in the student moving on to a new, exciting time of life.

And for some parents, there is even a bit of relief that some of the intensity of parenting is lifted.

When the phone rings, it might actually be a call for the parent. And the weekends can focus on something other than school and sports events.

For most families, the difficulties are greatest when the first or the last child leaves home.

Even so, practically any parent will tell you that saying goodbye to a child is a wrenching experience, no matter how solid the parent-child bond.

It can hurt. It is difficult. It is scary.

And to cap it off, just as their children are making their way into the world, parents are coming face-to-face with their own physical and intellectual limitations.

Perhaps more than anything else, the senior year is about trying to maintain a relationship between parents and children, a relationship that is shifting from childhood to adulthood.

Both parents and children are approaching a milestone that will mark a new beginning.

It encourages parents to let go — to stop doing laundry, making and canceling appointments, paying their kids’ parking tickets and library fines.

“We all love our children,” a parent told me recently. “About the only thing we can hope for is that we have loved them wisely.”

After all, it is the families we raise, the friendships we honor and the beliefs we cling to that will determine in the end whether or not we are successful.

American author Jack London once wrote: “I would rather be ashes than dust. I would rather that flame burn out in a brilliant blue blaze than it should be stilled by dry rot. I’d rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in a magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet. The proper function of man is to live, not to exist.”

And for the moment, time and space is being altered for those who are about to move on.

“Don’t get divorced and don’t change my room,” one student joked with his parents, as if trying to alleviate the pressure of the impending rite of passage. “And don’t throw out my baseball card collection or my Power Rangers.”

Maybe it’s time to start a dialogue that will continue in the car all the way to the seemingly magical goal.

And who knows, it might even ease the pain.

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Top of the morning!

— Blankenship is a columnist for The Register-Herald.

E-mail: jabbb@suddenlink.net