Another Milestone: Your Teen’s High School Graduation

Can you believe that your teen is graduating? Do you have tissues handy as you remember bringing the baby home from the hospital, the first day of kindergarten and, fast forward, holding your breath waiting for college acceptances.

You and your child started talking about graduation — the preparation, event and celebration afterwards. Uh oh, what about the child’s other parent?

Some parents tell me they take a deep breath and try putting themselves in the teen’s shoes, being respectful of what he/she wants. Other parents may not have the same filter and say things that can’t be taken back.

Teens report statements such as, “If you think I am celebrating with that parent, you better correct that picture now.”

Some parents put conditions on the other parent joining a celebration: “Let me make it clear — if your other parent comes, he or she is paying half!”

Then there are the teens’ various reactions. “I don’t want my parents together.” “Their fighting at soccer ruined my game so why should I let them ruin my graduation?”

Other teens sincerely wish their parents will rise to the occasion and be there for them. Last week, one teen said to me, “Do you realize what a gift it would be to have my parents’ support?”

Should you invite your child’s other parent, sit next to him or her at graduation, include significant others, while considering what your child wants? What about the celebration that follows?

Try to put yourself in your child’s shoes. Many teens talk about the ambivalent feelings they have regarding graduation:

• ” I don’t want to leave my friends. I haven’t been without them in four years.”

• ” I am really worried about my graduation.”

• ” One parent says he won’t stand for my other parent bringing a significant other. I will try to tell them I can’t get tickets.”

• ” I feel so badly for my other parent.”

• “One parent is so happy; the other one is so sad.”

• “This is just going to be another event, where I feel like a referee, taking care of my parents and making sure I am not embarrassed.”

Recently, one teen told me that he always hoped his parents would be proud of him, attend his graduation to celebrate all his achievements by sitting next to each other, planning a party together, then sitting down and addressing college finances.

Instead, he said, “All I do is worry and view this as a dreaded event.” This teen reported that he no longer wants a party and isn’t even sure about attending college. “I worry that I will be kicked out of college because my parent didn’t pay tuition.”

The following are some suggestions as reminders to keep the focus on your child because this is his/her milestone event as well as help you to enjoy this special day:

• There is enough love to go around.

• Plan a simple celebration that everyone can comfortably enjoy.

• Be specific about how the cost will be shared, how many guests will be invited, where it will be held?

• One recently blended family didn’t want to host a party at their home because the teen’s co-parent didn’t know the new stepparent. The couple approached the teen’s co-parent in an effort to brainstorm ways everyone felt comfortable. They decided upon a party at a local park, where they could decorate, have a barbecue and be protected if it rained. The graduating senior loved the idea of this neutral setting.

• Other parents sent out a joint e-mail, letting family and friends know about the graduation, firmly stating that anyone planning to attend the party could not make negative statements about either parent or anyone in his/her family.

Many of the teens I’ve worked with care deeply about pleasing their parents, graduating from high school and moving forward to higher education.

Remember that the most meaningful and enduring gift you can give your teen is love and respect for this time in his/her life. For more information: http://nfrchelp.org/services/therapy/

Best wishes,

Risa Garon

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