The goodbye year. The year of lasts. The senior year.
The racing against the clock before they succumb completely to senioritis. It is a year of to-do’s, tasks and applications to finish, and an emotional roller coaster of alternately celebrating and mourning all year long.
Exhilaration or panic may set in. You may sense that time is running short and that the sand in the proverbial hourglass is moving at warp speed. You realize that you are now in the last nail-biting minutes of the big game.
There are a million things to do (did we attach that essay to the application?) and also things not to do.
Here are a few tips and words of wisdom to help you savor the moment, enjoy the ride and keep your sanity.
To save everyone headaches, the best approach is an organized one. Start early, at the beginning or even the summer before senior year and make sure you’ve got a calendar, a plan and a checklist. This has been an absolute lifesaver and saved us from lots of arguments, miscommunication and differing expectations. Include items such as application deadlines, scholarship deadlines, appointments for pictures, all the numerous social events, final test dates (ACT/SAT), completing the dreaded FAFSA, housing deadlines, and college campus visits.
Having an overview and timeline of when things are due or upcoming makes the process much less overwhelming when dates begin to loom during a year already filled to the brim with school and outside activities.
“Make a plan, stick to it, and regularly review it so that everyone is on the same page.”
Applications are a painful process for everyone. While your senior should be doing most of the work, parents should still be actively participating as project managers, proofreaders, and by giving (gentle) reminders about upcoming deadlines. Procrastination, especially when dealing with lengthy applications and essays can quickly turn into a tension filled nightmare for senior and parents.
SENIOR YEAR IS EXPENSIVE
Senior year is one of the most exciting and most expensive school years. The opportunities to spend money are endless – senior pictures, senior rings, graduation announcements, yearbooks, trips, prom, cotillion, beach days, graduation parties, spring break and possibly a new vehicle. Mix in the cost of all those college applications, housing deposits and orientation fees, and you can end up with a lot of extra expenses.
This year of costs can also present parents with an opportunity to teach their child about budgeting, anticipating expenses and having a plan. This is another great way to use the senior checklist – write down when things are due and how much. This is an important lesson for you senior to master as well. Many parents can be caught by surprise and aren’t prepared for all the extra expenses, so make sure to have a plan before you feel the pinch in your wallet.
STAY IN THE PRESENT
Senior year can be strange as so much of it is focused on the future; however, there are so many special moments you want to be fully present for this year so that you can enjoy them. Last games, last dances, awards ceremonies, and last performances become even more cherished when you realize how precious the time has become. Go to all the matches and games to see your senior and their friends!
“Don’t miss events this year, no matter how routine or mundane they may seem – or even if your senior says they “don’t care” if you are there or not (I promise they do).”
These experiences are time-limited and are something you won’t be able to do again – so just go! Don’t let the overwhelm and pressures of daily life rob you of genuinely enjoying this time with your child.
Actively listen during daily conversations and make time for things like family nights and family dinners. There may be some resistance on this one, but persevere, and I assure you it will be worth it. Even though teens routinely complain (mine included) about “forced” family events, these times have emerged as some of our best memories.
“Decide not to just survive the year, but to embrace it.”
Don’t constantly nag about small annoyances – take a step back and think if it will really matter a year from now. Above all, don’t fall into the comparison trap and worry about what everyone else’s kids are doing. This steals precious time and energy away from the present. Your senior may be workforce ready or even looking forward to taking a gap year, and that’s okay! Try and relax about the future – or at least seem relaxed. Instead, focus on enjoying the now.
ALL THE EMOTIONS
One of the hardest parts of senior year is the bumpy process of handling ALL the feelings. It’s painful and bittersweet. You won’t cry during moments you think you should, and then the waterworks will come during a mundane task. The emotions are tough on your heart in the best way, and you will alternately have feelings of pride, sadness, joy and melancholy – maybe even all in the same day!
“You will wonder how in the world you got here so quickly. You will wonder if you’ve done enough.”
Gathering photos for senior pages and montage videos will certainly cue the tears and the longing for baby and early childhood days when you were the center of their universe. Toothless grins, awkward tweens and 12 first days of school photos will remind you that a beautiful chapter is coming to an end. You will stare at proofs from senior portraits and wonder where this man-child came from that replaced your little boy (or girl).
As a mom, you must find a way to recognize and work through these feelings as your senior closes the door on their childhood. The goodbye and letting go may feel like a thousand little paper cuts, but do not process all the emotions and feelings with your child.
Talk through them with friends, partners, trusted loved ones or husbands, but don’t make your senior feel guilty for being excited about their next steps, and definitely don’t have a break down any time they mention graduation, college or leaving home. Phone calls and dinner chats with friends in the same stage can be lifesavers. As painful as it may be, a straight face may be necessary at times when you feel like dissolving into a puddle of tears.
Remember that your child is feeling a wide array of emotions. They are excited, nervous, may act like they’ve got it all together one minute and beg for your help the next. They may or may not share all they are feeling and many times take their cues on how excited or sad they should be from mom!
You don’t have to hide everything from them (after all, teens are perceptive creatures) and deep down, they do want to know we will miss them. However, making your sadness over this milestone a constant refrain in the background will overshadow many of their most joyous moments.
When my now senior was a baby, a wise mom shared with me that one of my jobs as a mother was to work myself out of a job as soon as I could. In other words, don’t continue to do everything for your child or they will never learn to do things for themselves (and will later lack many essential skills they need to navigate daily life) – expect more from your child.
In college, we all met the freshman who didn’t know how to do anything because mom had done everything! If you’ve been more hands on with an older teen, now is the time to let go. Micromanaging should be in the rearview mirror, and a teen that can navigate, self-advocate, seek out guidance and tell people what they need or want should be the goal.
Make a list of essential skills you want your teen to know before they are possibly hours away. Money management, basic vehicle maintenance, household tasks and interpersonal skills should be at the top of this list. Poll friends and family to see what life skills they wish they’d known when they left home.
“You won’t make it through everything but be intentional about this list throughout the year and work on the most important skills!”
This is also the time for your senior to manage their grades, deadlines, applications and schoolwork with little, if any, oversight. Mom should not be routinely logging in and checking on assignments and nagging for them to get done. Give them encouragement, resources and maybe a reminder, but hand the reins over to your senior.
The basic rules of your home such as curfews, expectations and responsibilities should remain in place, but otherwise, try to let them figure things out on their own. Senior year is about giving them a taste of freedom with some parental oversight so that correction, redirection and feedback can occur while there is still a safety net.
THE END & NEW BEGINNING
Even after all the planning and guidance, your senior will still be a work in progress when they leave home. From the first time you held them as a tiny baby until now, you’ve been preparing them for this moment.
“Remember that not everything will happen according to plan, life will get messy and there is a lifetime of lessons yet to be learned.”
Trust that all you’ve poured into them for the past 17-18 years is there. The letting go is not just an ending. The end of senior year is a beginning of the next big beautiful chapter of their lives. And mama, you get a front row seat. They are ready to test the waters before them, so remember to cheer them on in their victories from the shore, smile through your tears and love them just as fiercely as you always have.