The Wows and Woes of Graduation: Traversing Transition with Hope

Photo by: Pamela Ebstyne King


I recently had the opportunity to join a group of women whose seniors in high school were on the brink of graduating. Two moms carefully crafted a ceremony infused with meditation, gestures, symbols, and a feast. The gathering was not only intended to “break the fast” of our social distance this past year, but allowed us to reflect on our hopes for our graduating children and to carve out a space to consider our purposes and intentions as moms for our own lives in this new season.

In a rare, quiet, and protected moment, our hosts guided us to center ourselves and consider our wishes for our child. In the meadow-like yard, nestled into the San Gabriel Mountains and surrounded by oaks and a vegetable garden, I focused on my hope that my son, Aidan, would live into the fullness of his life with and for others, and with and for God.

Living into the Fullness of His Life

My hope is that he will be and become even more Aidan. In those still moments, I was especially aware of the relentless expectations of a community like the one in which he has been raised. Here in Pasadena, almost a one-size-fits all definition of success and happiness orients the ways and the speed of teens’ lives. Although the prescribed norms are intended to guide, they all too often force and constrict maturing youth into people they are not. Reported rates of anxiety and depression suggest that wrong expectations promote striving ones, not thriving ones. Striving reflects a life motivated by external rewards and goals, whereas thriving involves pursuing goals that are aligned with intrinsic motivation, strengths and purpose. I hope my child will learn to thrive as himself, not as someone striving to live up to a prescribed idea of the good life.

My thoughts and prayers gave way to asking God to help Aidan be ever mindful of how he might live with integrity to who he is, and to be ever intentional about weaving his way into the tapestry of this world with all his unique particularities. I wish him a life of discovery and learning, not just of the world around him, but also of the world within him. May he ever attend to what lights him up and sparks his deepest delights and joy.

With and for Others

Perhaps especially after a year of socially distancing, I have a specific longing for this boy-becoming-man to understand how important it is for him to continue developing deep connections as he moves across the country for college. I hope for friends, family, and mentors through which he can feel known, loved, and that he deeply matters. I wish for caring others to enjoy him and know him, but also to hold him accountable. I have been so grateful for “the boys”—his pod of local guys, for Diego, for his brother Rhys, and for his close and extended family that have loved and lavished on him. I am grateful to Josh, Nada, Brian, coaches, and other adults who have known him throughout the years and called out the best of him.

We not only thrive and experience the freedom to grow when we are surrounded by safety and when we are deeply known, but we thrive and become whole in and through engagement with the world. My hope is that his connections with the world become meaningful places of engagement where he is serving and leading generously for the sake of others. As he moves away from our family and the “local loom,” I am mindful of the diverse tapestry of humanity and hope for his beautiful thread to be woven deeply and indelibly into the complexity of human life.

With and for God

As a person of faith, I have found exquisite and life-giving love in relationship to God. I have experienced Christ’s outstretched arms as (1) an invitation to be embraced in the brightest and darkest places and moments of my life, and (2) an example to embrace others. I have found guidance, inspiration, hope, solace, and strength in my faith in One who is beyond me—and at the same time, ever present and penetrating the details and nuances of daily life. My hope for my son is that he, too, will grow in faith in God as a source of life, love, and light. That faith is not just an ethical belief system, but is invigorating and serves to ground, connect, and direct him.

Not only do I pray that he experiences life as a journey with God, but also one in which he would have a sense of living for God. Religious traditions have taught for centuries, and research has finally caught up and shown, that life lived with a purpose beyond the self is a more joy-filled, fulfilling, and enduring life. As my son ventures forth beyond the four walls of our home, I hope and pray that he will continue to find aspirations for the greater good. I pray that as he weaves his way into the loom of life framed by transcendent horizons, that he will gain meaning and perspective on the uniqueness of his thread as part of a much bigger tapestry.

Parents as Partners

Parents of graduates, our job is not over. Whether kids are staying home, working, or heading off to new horizons, parents move more into a partnership role, staying emotionally connected even if our practical support begins to peel back. One important way we can support our emerging adults is by helping them calibrate through the many transitions ahead.

There are specific practices or habits that help regulate us in times of transition. For me, as I adjust and adapt through transitions, it has been helpful for me to follow a 5-step process (which I introduce in a previous blog post):

  1. I attune to my mutual feelings of joy and sadness in seeing my son graduate;
  2. I become aware of what these feelings mean—that while I’m excited to see Aidan enter a new phase of his life, I am also going to miss him;
  3. I align my belief and trust in God with my intention of letting Aidan go off to college and providing him with endless support;
  4. I activate by pursuing more time with my family before my son leaves home;
  5. And finally, I assess what I’ve learned and what changes I need to make.

Whether you follow this same practice or engage in a different one, a practical way to partner with and stay emotionally connected to your adulting-child is to share your process and encourage your graduate to cultivate these capacities to assist them in their own transition.

Conclusion

As Aidan walked across the stage with his magnetic smile to receive his diploma, my heart did contortions—full of joy, gratitude, and pride, and simultaneously heavy with the gravity of grief as his impending departure sunk in. He has woven his way deeply into the hearts of our family, and in many ways his presence entwines us. With a full heart, I again yearn for him to live into the fullness of his life with and for others, and with and for God. I take heart knowing that although he will continue to weave his life beyond our home, that our threads will always be entwined, that we can partner to continue to keep our lives connected, and that God is the ultimate weaver.

No tapestry is without flaws, and I realize that parenting at this juncture commences a slow release that will empower him in his own process of weaving. So, in this season of graduation, I celebrate the beautiful life that he has begun to weave, and look forward to what weaving awaits ahead. Wishing you moments where you take in, hold, and appreciate the complexities of the transitions you and yours find yourself in.

About the Author

Pamela Ebstyne King

Pamela Ebstyne King

Pamela Ebstyne King, PhD, is the Peter L. Benson Professor of Applied Developmental Science at the School of Psychology and Marriage and Family Therapy in Fuller Theological Seminary. Her primary academic interests are applied research at the intersection of human thriving and spiritual development. Dr. King's work combines theology, empirical research, and community engagement to further understand what contexts and settings enable all people to thrive.

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