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posted: 3/17/2012 9:17 AM

Parents get their own strain of senioritis

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If you're a parent of a high school senior, you're probably experiencing what a lot of other parents are: You find yourself staring at your 17- or 18-year old, amazed at the near-adults they've become.

Then there are the flashbacks -- the 2-year-old with a new puppy, the 10-year-old banging on drums in the basement. You cherish the conversations during which you realized they have become people you can like and admire.

Of course, there are the "other" times. Like when your child forgets -- for the fourth time -- the simple job you've asked them to do or they look at you like you are God's gift to stupidity. These are the times you find yourself thinking how much easier it will be for everyone when they are out on their own.

Talking to parents of seniors, past and present, I know that these experiences are not unique. For that matter, I have lived through launching five high school seniors of my own, so I am not surprised at such responses.

I must admit, though, that I am a bit taken aback at just how many different emotions we all seem to cycle through when our high school seniors are around.

It is our job as parents to prepare our children to be on their own. Though we may not spend a lot of time thinking about this when they are young, as they move through adolescence we become increasingly aware of how important, challenging -- and occasionally frightening -- a job this is. Whether it is in the world of relationships or work, there is so much they need to know. So much they need to know but so little time to teach them, We fear we have less influence in their lives than their peers and pop culture have.

Ironically, as important as it is for parents to prepare teens for adulthood, it also is crucial we prepare ourselves for this major life transition. Though we will always be our children's parents, we will increasingly cede power, control and influence in their lives. We go from being guardians to, at best, consultants in what seems to be an alarmingly short period of time.

If we try to hold on to our former role in their lives, we likely will find ourselves in one battle after another with these emerging adults. We'll lose these battles, and they can taint our relationship with our children for decades to come.

If we accept our changing status, however, we inevitably will watch our children struggle, fail and suffer as they learn about adult life the hard way (which, I'm afraid, is the only way).

Many parents of high school seniors also discover that finding alternatives for their time and attention can be challenging. Whether we have been stay-at-home parent or worked a full-time job, or have been part of a two-person parenting team or a single parent, there is now a growing hole in our lives previously filled by the needs of our soon-to-be-autonomous senior.

It is important to fill the newfound time with activities that are interesting, fulfilling and growth-oriented. This could mean returning to school or a career, taking up a new hobby, or rediscovering our marriage or ourselves. The more we lay claim to our own lives, the easier it will be to appropriately let go of our children's lives.

I recognize that not all high school seniors have the same potential for striking out on their own. Some will need a bit of extra support and guidance. But sooner or later, all these kids morphing into adults will need to be as independent and autonomous as they can possibly be for their own good and for ours.

So to all senior-year parents: Congratulations, graduate! Try to enjoy this next stage in your life as much as you hope your children do.