Thursday, May 22, 2014

It's a Graduation Thing

As graduation time approaches, there will be many speeches, many words of wisdom. Some will go unheeded, I guess most will. And there will be some that take root. As I pass through this phase in my children’s lives, and a first for me – no more in school – I want to say so many things, yet they get lost in all the rhetoric. How can you stress that each decision they now make as young adults (and at 18 legally bound by those decisions) will impact the rest of their life, when ‘the rest of their life’ consists of college parties, spring break and Christmas holidays? How can you help them transition to taking more responsibility for themselves when they still live at home and are still largely dependent on you for support? We all thought middle school was a tough phase. Yet here we have another. They are adults more or less according to the law, but in their minds they have not yet grasped that concept. You as the parent can no longer call and check on their bank account, or make a doctor’s appointment for them, or sign papers for them. Yet they have not developed the capacity to understand how to handle situations now that won’t adversely affect them in the future. We can teach our children how to wash dishes, do laundry, clean the house, take care of a pet, balance a checkbook, change a tire, drive, save money, and the list goes on. And we should do all these things. But how do you teach them why they should do these things at the time they need doing? Think back to when you were 18 or 20 years old. Did you understand when you should put gas in the car to be safe? You knew how to drive, but did you know why you need to remember to check the oil? You could balance the checkbook, but did you understand why it was supposed to balance? Did you know why you should use hot water on towels and sheets and how often to wash them? And never mind those technical glitches. Did you even think about those things as being important? The answer is no, probably not. Like most young adults, we were so sure we had all the important things covered. We never worried about those things before, why should we now? Even though I did not grow up in the digital age like my children have, I still find myself mentally looking for a delete or undo button when doing a physical task, like erasing something I’ve written in pencil then blissfully thinking I can click undo and the words will magically reappear. No such luck. There is no undo button when a beloved pet gets sick because they were not taken care of – not through conscious neglectfulness, but through eneral ‘forgetfulness’. There is no delete button to click when an accident occurs because they were texting while driving. They think they are immortal. There’s no unfriend button when someone hurts you that let’s you erase them out of your life. Credit card companies don’t understand “I forgot” when a payment is late. Banks don’t care you didn’t balance your checkbook – your account is still overdrawn. It’s not that they can’t do these things or don’t know about them. It’s that they don’t understand the consequences of adult actions. Mom and dad will take care of it. The pets magically get fed. Dirty clothes magically reappear folded and clean. Cars are magically repaired and always running efficiently. Bills are always paid and bank accounts have money in them. But not anymore. And it’s a shame there is no magic formula for helping them other than to let them stumble around like we did. Our young adults do not have more challenges than we did, just different – tailored to their generation. We can offer a few gems of advice that may be heeded or not. I love it when I hear my girls say something to a friend that I have drummed into them their whole life – and it works! Success! Only there’s so much more. Our job as parents is to continue to guide them. We may not be able to ground them anymore, but we can certainly be a pillar of steady love and guidance. Sometimes it’s active help that is offered. Other times it’s standing back watching them fall because that’s the only way they’ll learn. And still others is just doing what we know is right and hoping they are watching and learning. The best advice I can give to any young adult graduating – whether high school, college or middle school – watch and learn, think before you act, and value yourself and others. Know that the adults in your life love you and care about you and are doing everything we can to help you achieve your dreams. But they are just that – your dreams. You have to chase them. You have to do the work. You have to prepare. And you can and will. We believe in you. Congratulations class of 2014.

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