For many parents, May and June are graduation months. Those of you with young kids may be planning to attend graduation ceremonies from preschool or kindergarten, or perhaps "continuation" ceremonies between grade school and middle school. But whatever ages your kids are now, I urge you to look into the future and picture them older, almost grown, preparing for high school graduation and almost ready to leave home. That's why I wrote my book No Regrets Parenting, which asks you to do just that—to make present-day choices about the time you spend with your kids while also picturing the day when the choices will no longer be yours to make. Indeed, when your kids are out of the house and on their own someday, their schedules will be more important than yours in determining the time you spend together. So I ask you to parent each day with an eye toward the future, realizing that the time you spend with your kids now is precious and fleeting. If you're still stuck in the sometimes overwhelming routines of diaper changes, bedtime struggles, car pools, sleepovers, and after-school activities, high school graduation probably seems like a distant mirage. But even though the days now may feel very long, the years are short, and high school graduation will be here in the blink of an eye.
When your kids begin making plans to move on—to college or other adult pursuits—you'll experience a graduation of sorts yourself. You'll graduate from being the parent of kids at home to being the parent of kids on their own, who are "semi-launched," as we say in our house. Your parenting doesn't end when the kids leave for college, but it changes dramatically. When that day arrives, when you "graduate" from being the parent of kids at home, here's the graduation speech I'd like you to be able to give:
I've done it!
They're in college or out in the world!
I raised wonderful children who love their parents and know their parents.
I turned countless childhood minutes, hours, days, and weeks that would have otherwise been lost in the name of efficiency into special moments that I'll cherish forever.
I was there with them every chance I had, and I created chances to be with them that I never imagined I could.
And as reward for my commitment, passion, and love, I can now pass by their empty bedrooms, feeling fond nostalgia and missing them terribly. But what a blessing it is to feel No Regrets!
The days were long, the years were short, and the time I had with them was then. But I made the time and I took the time.
Now it's my time.
I've earned it.
Dr. Harley A. Rotbart is Professor and Vice Chairman Emeritus of Pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and Children's Hospital Colorado. He is the author of three books for parents and families, including the recent No Regrets Parenting, and a Parents advisor. Visit his blog at noregretsparenting.com.
Image: Graduated boy with mortarboard cheeringvia Shutterstock