10 November 2017
Every year at this time I think not only about the young women in our care who are about to embark on their next exciting adventure, but also about you, as parents, and how you are managing this time of their, and your, lives.
As the mother of three daughters, the youngest of whom graduated from school in 2015, I understand the feeling of panic as the final day of the final year of school arrives. After the dust of the celebrations settled we found ourselves wondering: ‘What now?’ The lines that demarcated rules and boundaries become blurred as the structure, supported by years of schooling, shifted. We all felt somewhat at sea. The comfort and security of the school day routine had been pulled from under our feet and, as a family, we were left to muddle through a whole new set of challenges without guidelines or the clearly defined set of boundaries that school life provided.
I found consolation in the fact we were not alone. Most parents had come down to earth with an anti-climactic bang after all the school-is-out excitement was over and the realisation hit home that our daughters were moving on to the next great adventure — The Rest of Their Lives.
The Year 12s of The Glennie School start this journey in just over a week. It is an exciting and exhilarating time, filled with promise and anticipation; a time of both setting forth and letting go. For many of them it will mean the shedding of an old skin to make way for the new. They will find it necessary to relinquish the idealised versions of themselves and others, of relationships and life after school, in favour of the real version. This process may involve coming to terms with opportunities not taken, situations mishandled and the fact that childhood is definitively over. With all of this there is an inevitable sense of loss; new doors cannot open unless old ones close. Thus, it is important for us to allow our girls a space to negotiate the various and often contradictory range of emotions that accompany leaving.
As your daughters settle into life after school, you as parents may often feel frustrated at their apparent disinterest in taking full advantage of all the opportunities available to them — especially as they may appear to have so much time at their disposal. It helps to remember they are at a different developmental stage to us. They are in the process of finding their own way — and not necessarily taking the path we would have them choose — while seeking to understand their place and role in the world. The ties that bind them to us are often stretched taut during this time of change. The good news is this is the time when they begin to value their parents once more (Carr-Gregg and Shale, 2002) — though this may not be immediately apparent!
While the end of School is exciting, it can also be the source of great anxiety.
Remember, this is a time when many young people may be experiencing a degree of fear. A fear of failure, which may be compounded by the initial lack of recognition of their skills and accomplishments by the university, TAFE or new employers, is not uncommon. With the support of parents and family and the knowledge that it is sometimes safe to fail, they should be well equipped to face what lies ahead. We would be wise to remember the words of Thomas Szasz who said: ‘A child becomes an adult when he realises that he has a right not only to be right but also to be wrong’. During their time at secondary school they may have experienced what they perceived as failure. This may have been in a test, on the sports field, when applying for positions of leadership or even in the awarding of academic prizes. The fact that this occurred in a safe, supportive environment would have taught them some of the skills required in overcoming disillusionment or failure in later life.
There are a number of ways in which we can support our daughters during these years of transition. These include listening, being encouraging, staying calm, accepting of them (but not their bad behaviour), assisting when appropriate, being patient as they adapt to this new period of their lives and respecting their decisions (Edwards and English, 2005). In respecting their decisions we show them that we view them as young adults. At the same time they know if they make the wrong decisions their parents are always there as the safe haven to which they can return. Relationships will mature into ones based on mutual respect and affection and young people may even accept assistance in planning strategies when making decisions or aiming to achieve goals (Carr-Gregg and Shale, 2002).
And there’s you. Allow yourself a sense of sadness as your girl–woman moves into a new space, emotionally and physically. But also allow yourself a sense of joy. For you, as parents, have brought them this far, holding, nurturing, caring and guiding. And by doing so you have given them the ability to be all they can be.
Mrs Kim Cohen