When IS the Appropriate Time to Cry?

“Mom, this is THE most inappropriate time to cry!”

With a smirk, these words were deliberately spoken as we walked through the annual school art show. I was astounded that my sensitive and kind boy had busted me weeping.

Another mother passed us. I grabbed her and pleaded defensively, “Alana, tell him I have been the one all year saying how proud and excited I was for them, not sad and crying like all everyone else!” She empathetically affirmed my declaration as she rubbed my shoulder.

“I didn’t say you couldn’t cry, I just don’t think HERE is the appropriate place to cry,” my boy responded.

Time to cry when youngest heads to college

This kid has always been about the semantics. He carefully dissects details in ways that often elude me and sometimes are at the heart of our mother-son conflicts. What he actually meant, was not that I could not cry at all – just not here where his AP art portfolio was scrolling across the projection screen.

Or maybe he DID mean I shouldn’t cry at all…sometimes hard to tell with teen boys.

Either way, I clearly off my game. I inhaled deeply, dropped my reading glasses over my nose as camouflage and proceeded to view dozens of spectacular pieces of artwork.

“When IS the appropriate time to cry when your last child is headed off to college? What if you rewind years of parenting to evaluate, judge, assess how well the job was done and whether or not they are sufficiently prepared for the next chapter?” I tried to sustain interest in what was immediately before me. This was not a mindful moment.

[More on the bucket list for parents of high school seniors here.]

Over the past twenty years, I resided in that sweet spot where parenting and teaching overlap. From the time I was pregnant with my first, it was often hard for me to identify which hat I was wearing. With each stage, struggle or interest my kids showed, I dug up the literature, talked to colleagues and figured out what the best practice was or how to guide them into that zone where they were sufficiently challenged to grow and felt supported yet independent.

Many times I had to call on the wisdom of others to guide me; I certainly could not have done this alone. It does take a village, and when your village consists of some of the very best teachers and professionals around, it helps.

With one in college and one on the way, I’m generally proud of the job we’ve done and mostly, for the people they are and will become. We are beyond lucky. They’ve worked hard, messed up a bit, and had many successes. Mostly, they make good choices and are truly, good kids.

A parent cannot ask for more than that, but I guess I am, because I am walking around weepy at art shows, distracted as I drive, clean the kitchen, sit at my desk – second guessing things at the eleventh hour.

The world is a very different place than when we started this parenting gig. The game plan has changed often and is really a repertoire of coaching strategies with boundaries and expectations. As they became emerging adults, giving them the leeway for them to make decisions and figure things is critical and often just difficult.

We do not know what we are preparing our kids for – jobs, avocations, the world. The world is evolving so quickly that it feels the best we can do is help them be good people, study what interests them, develop a strong work ethic and be ready to solve problems. These are traits that defy objective measurement and continue to grow over time. And this is why I am weepy – because there is no road map, to guide, no black and white answers.

What if what we have done is not enough? What if we didn’t let them fail enough? What if we didn’t actually push hard enough? Will they really know how to navigate big cities, pay electric bills, advocate in large college classes, endure love and broken hearts and other losses? Will they want to come home or will they take what we’ve given them and run? And what if they end up therapy later and it’s all their mother’s fault?!

It hits me like a sudden summer thunderstorm. I am not crying so much for them, but for me. It’s my sense of loss. I am most definitely mourning. This has been my defining role – mom, teacher, center of their world (at least in my head). For some reason, my usual glass-half-full mentality is threatened and I see my own distorted reality. I am trapped somewhere between ruminating on what has happened and worrying about the future, instead of enjoying this moment in our lives. I know this, but I cannot always summon the courage to act accordingly.

[More on high school graduation and how moms should prepare for the big day here.]

Thankfully, there are two of us on this job, and my husband reminds me of their strengths and affirms what we/I have done. More importantly assures me they and I will be just fine because we’ve given it our best. Now is the time to celebrate their achievements and opportunities, not be stuck in my own head.

There will be more tears as graduation approaches. Hopefully, more tears of joy than the lump in the throat kind. Graduation is about celebrating the people we’ve raised, the communities that have helped, and the anticipation of the next chapter. I might just have to write that on the palm of my hand so that I don’t cry at inappropriate times.


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LWellsLisa Dewey Wells taught preschool through middle school while raising two children, now emerging adults.  She has watched, taught and coached children as they learn to navigate the social, cognitive and physical demands of modern childhood and offered insights to the adults who guide them on this journey.  Lisa also provides professional development to teachers across the country on classroom management and social emotional  learning. To help keep her sanity, she practices yoga and mindfulness and shares this regularly with students of all ages.  When not teaching, writing or running the show at home, Lisa can be paddle boarding or boating in Maryland or teaching stand up paddle yoga, which is really not as challenging as people think. Her blog is The Wonder of Children and you can find her on Facebook and Twitter.

About Grown and Flown

Mary Dell Harrington and Lisa (Endlich) Heffernan are the co-founders of Grown and Flown the #1 site for parents of teens, college students and young adults, reaching millions of parents every month. They are writers (Lisa is a New York Times bestselling author), moms, wives and friends. They started the Grown and Flown Parents Facebook Group and are co-authors of Grown and Flown: How to Support Your Teen, Stay Close as a Family, and Raise Independent Adults (Flatiron Books) now in paperback.

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