A letter to a graduate

It’s commencement season and now it’s really over, parents. They’re really on their own now. Sure, you cried when they went off to college four years ago, thinking it was really over, but they came home with their laundry every now and again and had some free meals while reminding you that they’re smarter than you are now.

If they haven’t absorbed the wisdom you’ve been providing by now, they’re probably not going to.

So for author Kristin van Ogtrop there’s only one thing to do at this momentous time of their lives: apologize, which she does in her letter on Time.com today.

Understand, kids, parental guilt is hard.

The hardest part of parenting is knowing when to step in and when to step back. You are still absentminded. (Remember spring break 2017, when your wallet was “lost” in the car for two days?) I have learned, however, that you always find your way. Combination locks! Who. Cares. But you see, my (over-)reaction that night had nothing to do with whether you had all your supplies and everything to do with wanting to feel that I had life under control as you entered the uncharted world of combination locks and cell phones and walking to school every day with a friend instead of a parent.

So I apologize for that, and for all the other times when I took my issues and made them yours.

I apologize, too, for the times I co-opted your triumphs. Perhaps this is true of all parents, but one of my greatest mistakes as a mother was to conflate your success with mine. Every accomplishment of yours meant less working-mom guilt for me: if you got an A on a test, I gave myself an A; if you made the varsity team, so did I. I was raised by a loving stay-at-home mom, and by working full-time when you were growing up, I feared you would be less smart, less happy, less emotionally sound. (Turns out that was me.)

I’m sorry I didn’t pay more attention, didn’t write down every single thing you said in a notebook while you were still the little boy who would crawl into bed with me and say, “Let’s hold hands.” The boy who wanted nothing more than to be by my side, before you became an overscheduled teenager and then a polite young man who has learned how to gracefully deflect a prying parent. I know that little boy is still in there somewhere, and I know this is the natural order of things. But now you are like an Emily Dickinson poem: beautiful, brilliant, mysterious.

Now comes the hard part of this time of year: Letting go.

For those who scoff at any of this, we call your attention to the letter Beverly Beckham wrote in 2006, which the Boston Globe reprints every year at the start of the college year.

“It’s not a death, nor a tragedy,” she concluded. ” But it’s not nothing either.”

  • Rob

    I’d hold off on any “sorry” letter until son or daughter is well and truly launched into the world. In these days of heightened economic insecurity and fewer career-type employment opportunities for newly-minted graduates, any given “sorry” letter recipient may be boomeranging a time or two before leaving home for good. After they move to a distant city and are only coming back for the holidays strikes me as a better time frame in which to lay the “sorry” letter on ’em.

  • John O.

    This sounds a bit like a “helicopter parent” who finally realized it’s time for the helicopter to head for the boneyard.