Grade 12 Grad or Bust – How Graduating from High School Impacts Us As Parents

NOTE: This article was originally published in 2019 when my eldest was graduation from high school. Now, in 2023, she’s graduation from university and my youngest is graduation from High School! The experience may be slightly different with our second born, but the life lessons still apply. Enjoy!

“So, let me get this straight – we go to your grad, but we don’t actually go with you, sit with you or even really talk to you during the whole thing? When can we even get pictures?!” I said to my 17-year-old frustratingly.

Grade 12 graduation ceremonies are looming in front of us for the end of May.  This is a huge deal for the graduates for sure. A life accomplishment. Graduating not only from high school but also from childhood, from an old way of life and entering one filled with possibility, freedom and many life choices.

It’s an exciting time, and also one filled with much emotion, anxiety and overwhelm, for many – and I’m not even talking about the children here!

In our house, I count ourselves lucky.  Our eldest – who is training us parents in what we’re supposed to be doing to catch glimpses of her during this special time – is a pretty organized individual. She’s got her grad dress, her shoes, appointments made for various primping prior to the big dinner and dance, and table seating organized for the dinner.

I really just have to show up. And I don’t even have to do that if I don’t want to, but of course I do!

That’s the thing. She’s got it all under control.

She doesn’t need me in the same ways she used to. As one of my friends said to me recently, “look at you! You raised an adult!!”

Wow. I guess I – we – did. Raise an adult, that is. Which got me to thinking about how our 17-year-old’s graduation symbolizes so much more and will have so much more impact than the simple act of moving from one year into another.

Really, we’re all graduating, in some way… graduating from something and moving into the great unknown of what’s next.

This isn’t an article about “what to do when your first born graduates from high school.” Who am I to say I have it all figured out? It’s more of a musing about the impact on those of us in her circle, and it also makes me marvel about how I barely gave my own dear parents a second thought when I achieved this same milestone, many moons ago.

With the graduate, it’s clear what they are moving into – for us parents, what does parenthood look like now?

What Does Parenthood Look Like as Your Children Move Into Adulthood?

What does parenthood look like as your children move into adulthood?Click To Tweet
1.  Guiding vs Telling

I don’t know about you, but the “Do as your told” mantra has never really gone over that well in our house. Inspiring our children to rise up to the expectations we’ve set for them is a delicate art.

That delicate dance will continue as we finance our firstborn’s university education – “It’s like a $20,000/year all inclusive (vacation)!” exclaimed my husband as the realities of university tuition, room and board started to sink in. Who wouldn’t want to live away from home during university if that is the deal?

It is now up to us parents to clearly outline what our expectations are of our newly minted adult as she continues to explore the world with more freedom while still strongly tied to our pocketbooks. I figure my goal is to continue to be a parent she wants to turn to for love, guidance and support as she navigates and explores the next steps in front of her.

2.  Increased Independence

Ahh, I bet you think I’m talking about increased independence of the child – how about us parents?

While we still have another child at home, our freedoms are increasing: the ability to go on child-free weekends away, more freedom to do activities and watch movies we choose, and more time for each other again, as our children spend increasing amounts of time with their friends and in their own activities.

This can be a serious hiccup for many parents, especially those who had been primarily consumed with raising children for a number of years, as we are so used to putting our own needs aside for the little ones we are raising.

Some parents will easily enjoy this transition, others become quite introspective and overwhelmed with the idea of what they want to do with their time now.

Does another career await you? New training? A less encumbered step back into the workforce?

Many of my clients seek coaching support at some point in their parenting journey when they have renewed energy to focus on their own career satisfaction. It’s a more common issue than you may think.

3.  Shifting Relationships

I watch some parents easily navigate into more of a friendship type of relationship with their children as they get older, while for others that drawing together doesn’t come until the next generation arrives and children look to their parents – now new grandparents – for that love, guidance and support in a new way.

Relationships are shifting with our children – and also with each other as parents. If your marriage is fortunate enough to have survived child-raising, this next phase may throw you for a loop as you have more time to spend with each other again. What does that look like now?

I guess we’ll find out!

All I know, is that as I watch my first-born walk across the high school graduation stage in a few weeks, wearing cap and gown and lighting up the world with her beautiful smile and warm spirit, I will be proud of her and excited for what’s next, while also nostalgic for the many years that got us there.

I remember being told, in the early days of child-raising, that: “The days are long but the years are short.” In the midst of diaper-changing, sleepless nights and exhausting days, it sure didn’t feel like the passage of time was quick.

Now, all of sudden, the past 18 years seem to have gone by in a heartbeat, and now that heart has jumped out of my body and is walking across the stage into adulthood and a world of opportunity.

Watching my 18-year-old cross the graduation stage is as though my heart has jumped out of my body and is walking into adulthood.Click To Tweet

What’s been your experience of guiding your children into this next phase of parenting? I’d love to hear. Please drop a note in the comments below or message me at with your words of wisdom or stories to share.

And if you’re one of those parents who is looking for their “What’s Next” in the context of their own life or career – I invite you to see how I can help. That is something I do have experience in – reinventing yourself as you manage the many faces of parenthood.

To your success, in business and in life,

Susan Elford

PR Launchpad Guidebook ABOUT SUSAN ELFORD

Susan Elford is a Leadership Coach and PR Strategist who especially loves to work with women who want it all: a fulfilling career or business while living a full and satisfying life. Susan helps her clients get real about their strengths and celebrate and promote them so they get more of what they want: success at work; success in business & success in life.

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