How Parents Can Deal With The Emotional Rollercoaster Ride That Is Graduation

Six tips from a family therapist on how to make it through the big day and beyond.

Photograph via iStock.

Where did the time go? Seriously, it seems like just yesterday your child was born, but now they’re getting ready to graduate. This milestone can be a emotional rollercoaster–for parents.

For advice on how moms and dads can deal, we turned to Todd Cox, MD, a DC-based psychiatrist specializing in family therapy, for six tips on making it through the big day and beyond.

Prepare for conflicting emotions

“There can be a sense of pride, excitement, and positive anticipation for your child as they progress to their next chapter, but it’s also the closing of a chapter for the parent in terms of their role guiding and shepherding their child. That loss and change can be scary or overwhelming.”

Don’t forget your child

“Your child’s emotional experience is going to be similarly complicated. It’s not like you see in the movies. Not everyone is necessarily excited about the next step. Allow for your children to have the ability to process those emotions with you and their friends.”

You may blame yourself

“For a lot of parents, high school is about what is going to come next, so there can be some sense of failure about accomplishments or expectations that were not met. Sometimes this feeling comes from parents setting the bar too high.”

Hold the pills and cocktails

“This isn’t like the anxiety you get before flying. You don’t need to medicate with alcohol or prescriptions to help you through the situation.” 

Your role in their life is going to change

“Anticipating this and being able to accept it – even if you don’t prepare for it – is important.”

See the next stage as an opportunity

“There will be absences in your routine, which means you can now do things you weren’t able to do before because of a lack of time or availability. Find new things to be purposeful in your life.”

Parenting writer

Nevin Martell is a parenting, food, and travel writer whose work has appeared in the Washington Post, New York Times, Saveur, Men’s Journal, Fortune, Travel + Leisure, Runner’s World, and many other publications. He is author of eight books, including It’s So Good: 100 Real Food Recipes for Kids, Red Truck Bakery Cookbook: Gold-Standard Recipes from America’s Favorite Rural Bakery, and the small-press smash Looking for Calvin and Hobbes: The Unconventional Story of Bill Watterson and His Revolutionary Comic Strip. When he isn’t working, he loves spending time with his wife and their six-year-old son, who already runs faster than he does.