Navigating Senior Year: 5 Things to Know

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Giddy with excitement and feeling pretty amazing, your child is in their senior year. You are left standing at the curb while they are on top of their world. The next several months are all about parties, prom and their 25 best friends. For parents navigating senior year, you may feel as if your relationship has changed, and this can leave even the most confident parent feeling a bit uneasy.

The process of breaking away that begins during senior year is an important part of development and parenting.  This time can be emotional for parents, especially moms, because their world has centered on parenting. Author Anna Quindlen is no exception and addresses these feelings in her 2004 essay, “Flown Away” (Read it here). Quindlen reminds us that we are not alone in our mixed feelings.

1. You Have Done a Good Job, Mom

After years of volunteering at school, encouraging your child and offering advice and direction, your child gives you the message loud and clear that they know what they are doing. Senior year is a series of attempts to leave the nest. Of course, children want to be independent while their parents foot the bill and offer a safety net. This year is a balancing act. But ultimately it is your home. Although it is difficult to emotionally let go of your child, it is a natural occurrence. Often, the child is ready to part first, or they think they are ready…until something happens. As one adult daughter I know says, Slow Your Role. You have done a good job; let them see what they can do.

2. Develop Thick Skin While Navigating Senior Year

The eye roll. The sigh. The look. These expressions can hurt your feelings and test your patience. It is important to ignore these personal statements of independence. While navigating senior year, allow your child some space to develop the confidence they will need their first year of college, especially if they are going away to school. Many students are quite homesick, unsure of themselves and feel overwhelmed their first year. Be patient. They will return long enough for you to feel needed. But, then they will be on their way once again.

3. Maintain Order and Rules

 In spite of their confidence and independence, maintain order and family rules. Never mind the resistance. With responsibility comes privilege. Set the ground rules about curfews, homework and participation in family activities. Curfews are meant to keep your child safe. Many families even maintain curfews during college breaks. Your child likely will argue they will be managing their own schedule the following year. Insist that it is common courtesy for them to let you know where they are and who they are with and that coming in at all hours of the night is disruptive to the entire family. Just because your child doesn’t want to go to Aunt Beth’s birthday party does not mean they should get a pass.

“I repeated these words in a sing-song voice every time my teens and their friends headed out the door on weekends. I had a few other regular reminder phrases….’You’ve all worked so hard so don’t blow it.’ ‘You are responsible for being a good friend’ and, their all time favorite, ‘Tonight is NOT the night to bust out…everyone is watching!’ ” shares Gabrielle McCree, teacher and parent of three, in her blog on Grown and Flown.

4. Hugs and Kisses

Even if they push away, still give them a hug. Show them you care with a hot meal waiting for them when they get back from play practice at 8 p.m. Bake a batch of their favorite cookies. Surprise them by washing and folding a load of laundry or picking up their bathroom. Most of all, love them. They really do grow up fast, don’t they?

5. Begin Your Life Makeover

While navigating senior year, remember to take care of yourself. Reconnect with your friends, spouse or partner. In her book, “The Goodbye Year: Wisdom and Culinary Therapy to Survive Your Child’s Senior Year of High School (and Reclaim the You of You),” Toni Piccinini’s recounts her experiences of her oldest child entering her senior year of high school. In September, for example, she suggests that moms (and dads) join a new social group that has nothing to do with parenting. Begin preparing for the loss you are feeling now — and will feel stronger next year — when you have one less child at home.  This is an excellent time to take up a new hobby, start a book club, find a part-time job or plan a trip. For more on what Piccinini has to say, check this link.

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