From JewishFamily.com. Used with permission.

What can be more joyful for a parent than when a child completes a certain stage of education? Graduation--whether it is from nursery, elementary, middle, high school, or college--is indeed a proud and momentous occasion.

But like so many momentous occasions, especially those involving family, there's a lot mixed into it--strong emotions, both positive and negative; logistics about where out-of-towners are going to stay; what gift to get the graduate--all things that can put a difficult spin on a day that supposed to be wonderful. The key to having a wonderful graduation for your child is in doing some advance planning, lowering your expectations of the perfect day, and trying to overlook the inevitable mishaps.

Of course, you're happy your child is graduating. But there's also some sadness that may go along with it. With each passing grade, your child is growing more independent--and you're growing older, not a reality that gladdens most people. Many parents form intense bonds with other nursery school parents, and often the whole family can go through a difficult transition when the child moves from the smaller, more intimate environment of nursery school to the larger, more impersonal public school system.

In some graduations, your whole life may change, such as when your last child graduates from high school. "It's just hitting me now how quiet and lonesome it's going to be," says Lisa Levine (name changed) of Washington, D.C., who will face the empty nest when her daughter graduates from high school this spring and moves on to college. "It's a little scary."

But don't be surprised: You could feel a little guilty about being glad that your kid is graduating and leaving home. That is also a normal reaction. After all, continuous parenting is tiresome, and some parents, while they foresee how much they'll miss their kid, like the idea of less laundry, a clean room, and a silent phone for part of the evening.

The bottom line is that graduation--the weeks before, the day of, and the weeks after--may bring on a lot of intense emotions. Accept them. One of the best ways to accept them is to share them with others--your partner, your kid (if your relationship accommodates it), and most important, your friends who are going through a similar experience. One woman in Brookline, Mass., is hosting a tea for mothers of graduating seniors. It's her way of acknowledging an important transition and an opportunity to have everyone express themselves about what it means to have their kids graduating.

As parents, we should also be aware of our kids' emotions. There is pride, joy, and excitement, but there is also some sadness, which may or may not be overtly expressed. Kids graduating from middle school may feel the loss of a favorite teacher. Or they may be anxious about starting high school and separating from some of their lifelong friends. Seniors may actually be worried about leaving home, although most won't admit it. And there will be sadness and angst for high school sweethearts who will be going their separate ways. There's not much you can do about these feelings your child may experience, except be aware that they may occur and offer a supportive ear if possible. You may want to reassure a child who expresses anxiety about separation that you will still be available to him/her through phone, e-mail, or visits.

If you get along with them, great. They'll be as much a part of this joyful occasion as they have on other major family events. If you don't get along with certain relatives, but you feel obligated to invite them to the graduation, there's a five-letter word you must know about: hotel. That's the only way it will work with troublesome relatives. Even if you have to pay for their accommodations, it will be worth it. Politely explain that there will be a lot of tension on this important day, and everyone will feel more relaxed in their own space.

Former Spouses and In-laws
Graduations are one of those occasions where you can't avoid seeing your former spouse and possible other former family members. Remember to focus on your child and try your hardest to help the day go smoothly. For college graduations, there may be several days during which you have to spend time with your former spouse and in-laws. Planning to socialize with other families can help minimize the awkwardness of the occasion. Your child may be anxious about having both sides of a divorced family spending time together. Talk to your former spouse and plan, in the interest of your child, how to make the occasion as tension-free as possible.

The Gift
Younger graduating kids are generally (but not always) easier to please. If in doubt, you can ask one of their friends--who will be happy to snitch--what they may like. Offer a couple of choices that are within your budget. If possible, get your child something personal that commemorates the occasion. But don't feel you have to go overboard, especially with seniors. Remember the forthcoming tuition; then you're more likely to think realistically when buying a gift. If you have trouble deciding what to get, then ask your child to pick out something special. (Just stay away from car dealers, unless you're really prepared for all the implications of such a gift.)

A Potpourri of Tips

  • Tell your kid what it was like when you graduated. This may encourage your child to share some of his or her thoughts with you.
  • Be alert to any extreme sadness or anxiety--on the part of your child and yourself--that may require professional assistance.
  • Buy a gift for the graduate that can be exchanged, and don't feel too bad if he or she returns it to the shop for something else.
  • If people want to give your kid money for graduation, accept it.
  • If relatives act up, just tell yourself that it's one day and they'll be gone soon. If they really act up, take them aside and tell them they're ruining the event for your kid--their grandchild, niece, or whatever. That should bring about short-term results that will get you through the day.
  • Remember to focus on your child's needs when you interact with your former spouse and in-laws. Wanting your child to be happy is one thing you all share.
  • Finally, remember to have a good time--and mazel tov on your child's graduation!

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