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How One Mom Found Joy instead of Sadness During Her Son’s Senior Year

Transitioning to college and the next phase of life can be an emotional step for all, but don’t forget to enjoy the senior year moments, big and small.

The June sun had begun to sink in the sky as I walked from the car through the school entrance and to the graduation field decorated with blue and white streamers. As excited families scurried past, I continued on while taking a few steady breaths and reveling in the celebratory energy. Flags flapped in the warm breeze. Finding my seat on the field, I looked up at the blue sky and the white clouds and paused to think, It’s a beautiful day for graduation. We made it.

I waved hello to other parents, taking in their smiling faces and noticed a few moms with already-misty eyes. When the band struck its first note and the students proceeded onto the field, I took another breath, thankful for all we had been through and for the excitement of my son’s future.      

Months before this mid-June day, I had made a promise to myself to enjoy as many moments of my oldest son’s senior year as possible. Instead of viewing every event before graduation as “the last”—from the last football games and Homecoming dance to the last academic/athletic banquet (not to mention prom and graduation)—I marked each milestone as a celebration happening in the moment.

In fact, senior year is really just one long series of milestones.

Sometimes these events will overlap, and you find yourself rushing from one important milestone event to the next. One day I sped from work to attend a track meet 30 miles away, and then shuttled my runner back to the school where he changed in the car and attempted to freshen up before putting on a shirt, tie, and dress pants to accept his People’s Choice award.

In addition to the frenzy, sometimes there’s sadness and nostalgia for the childhood years as we watch the final swim meet, basketball game, or technology challenge. And, of course, these feelings are all normal. As parents, we have spent a good chunk of our days attending and chaperoning events, cheering our children on from the sidelines, driving from activity to activity, and dashing to the drugstore to get poster board and glue sticks at 9 p.m. for a forgotten project.

Some melancholy thoughts invariably work their way in: Where has the time gone? How are these young adults no longer little children tethered to our side? How are we no longer the center of their solar system? But along with the melancholy, there is hope, pride, and contentment there, too.

Here are the mindfulness practices I used to make the most of my teen’s senior moments: 

3 Mindfulness Tips

1. Focus on the now

To stay in the moment—and enjoy it—I have to focus. This means taking a few slow, steady breaths in and out through the nose, throwing away my mental to-do list, and putting on my positivity sunglasses to embrace each particular milestone that has been reached and soak it in. On that sunny graduation day, I paused to observe the setting, the weather, the decorations at the event. I focused my attention on my young adult, congratulated him (and myself), and talked with other people attending the event. I remembered that—after all the highs and lows, setbacks, false starts, and achievements (not to mention missed buses, forgotten books and lunches, late-night science projects, and not-so-good test scores)—my student was moving on to the next exciting chapter of his life. And that alone was worth acknowledgement and a little happy dance.

2. Commemorate the milestones

My oldest and I started a tradition of taking a selfie at each of the senior events—from college naming day and sport signing day to honor society ceremonies and end-of-the-year banquets. For one moment we stopped, squeezed together, and snapped the picture. This was my way of staying present and capturing the moment. Even if I was having a bad hair day or didn’t have time to fix my makeup, we took a picture. These snapshots kept me grounded. This senior year thing was really happening, and we were smiling and hugging even if it was just for a second. Woo-hoo! My second son and I continued the tradition for his senior year and, when I scroll through the pictures on my phone, I am always met with our joyous faces.

3. Make a new memory together

Both of my sons opted out of a big graduation party. Instead, we invited immediate family and friends to gather for cake. Then we took a road trip together to a place we had never been. These road trips gave us time to relax and explore while spending quality time together. It was the perfect way to mark the end of their senior years and make some good memories they could take with them on the next chapter of their life journey. Spending that time together, laughing and talking and taking pictures, made me realize that a positive, focused presence is one of the best gifts we can bestow on our children—and perhaps the greatest gift we can give ourselves, as parents.

Lisa Samalonis writes from New Jersey where she lives with her two sons. She is at work on a memoir about single parenting and loss.

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