Acceptance Letters: Parents, college and letting go

Another Season

Elizabeth Weinstein
June 27, 2017

Editor’s note: With the graduation of her second child from Kenyon, this will be Elizabeth Weinstein’s last post for “Acceptance Letters.” An archive of her previous posts can be found here.

“To everything there is a season, turn….” said Ecclesiastes (and Pete Seeger, and the Byrds) “…and a time to every purpose.”

Please forgive me my philosophical turn of mind (nostalgic? maudlin?), but both my children have now graduated from college, and here I am. Just like before I had children, only older, and with a mother to look out for instead of the other way around.

As I have mentioned in a previous post, I host a monthly writing and discussion group at my mother’s senior living home. I’m in and out of the place several times a week, so many of its residents are familiar to me — almost family themselves. Louise was not one of those people I was close to, but when she died last week, it was hard not to be shocked. She looked great last time I saw her and heard her foghorn voice. She was one of the cool girls, one of the well-coiffed women who enjoyed almost every activity and lunch trip, knew everyone’s name (and much of their business) whether staff, family member or friend. “HEY, BETSY!” she would call when she spotted me, no matter how far down the hall I was.

Since my mom, at 95, is six years older than Louise was, it made me think about whose time is when, for what purpose, and who gets to decide when it’s over. I don’t really want to drag death into this post, and although it looks like I already have, my purpose for bringing it up is merely to say it’s one more of those things that happens in life, isn’t it? We make room for it or not, we adjust or not — that’s up to us.

To any readers whose kids are just starting their college years, yay! It’s exciting! And congratulations to you for getting them there, and yes, it’ll pass in a flash, so enjoy it. Hang on for the ride, write them letters, try not to text too much, never call, and make the most of their vacations without fretting about internships and jobs and grades. Those things are their purview and they will figure it out. I can sermonize now because I’m done, but I can guarantee that they will figure it out! We parents of grads can tell you from our lofty perch that our children are now launched in their lives and we can relax.

Right? Right, parents of graduates? It’s time for us to move aside, look on lovingly and interestedly, but get on with the business of our own lives. As therapists will tell us, it’s fine to feel and think all sorts of things—that’s normal. What may be an exaggeration of normal is doing too much or saying too much—suggesting to our graduates where they should live, how to spend their free time, and whether thank-you notes should be email or cardstock. I’m sure you can supply your own examples.

We all need to tend to our children in our minds and hearts, just as we tend to ourselves and to any corners of our world we can help with. But it’s our turn now to tend to our children more quietly, without unsolicited advice or too many questions. This isn’t necessarily easy. I’ll bet Louise had trouble with that when her four daughters grew up. In one of life’s little ironies, I’ll bet her four daughters wish they had some of her advice right now about how to handle this new situation, a world without their mother in it. I wonder sometimes whether my wanting to comment on my own kids’ lives is a belated desire for my own mother to tell me what to do — now that, at age 60, I’m old enough to listen. As any good mother does, though, she is watching quietly as I find my way. Well — not always quietly. She still tells me to wash my sweaters in Woolite.