In a few short weeks our daughter graduates from college. There are details to shore up, reservations to check, and a mound of packing none of us want to even think about after four years living on campus.
Somewhere along the line we had this vision that once college graduation day came around, she’d also graduate into full adulthood and parenting would kinda sorta file itself on the shelf until she needs to bring the tome down and do her best with the haphazard contents within it.
But, as you well know, parenting doesn’t end upon graduation. Parenting, in fact, never ends.
Our relationship with our daughter changes over time. Parenthood is a bittersweet arrangement, with something lost just as something sweet is gained. We lose the diapers along with the babble, bedtime stories exchanged for piles of school books, and simply being together day in and day out is swapped for the ultimate goal we wish for our children: independence.
For parents and caregivers of those with Autism Spectrum Disorder, watching our Aspies bloom takes our breath away.
We are proud of our daughter for making it this far. She’s exceeding all expectations rudely glued to her during her earlier years by those who lacked the desire to choose optimism. Taking up their slack gave us more work, adding to the exhaustion. But it was worth it. And, yes, it was often hard.
That’s the thing, isn’t it? Parenting is hard. It may very well be one of the few cases of, “If it’s easy, then you’re not doing it right.” Sure, we can revisit the difficult moments, but that’s not my focus today. There are more than enough parents in the void who have a passion for pessimism, and those voices make me weary. Facing reality can be hard enough; dwell on the beauty, not the gaps.
One of the hardest things of parenting is also the most important; letting go.
I remember sweltering in her dorm room one September afternoon. The clock was ticking and it was time to head out to the final session. After locking the wooden dorm room door, the three of us walked out the gothic building, passing by several others, then into another no less stunning.
We sat in a pew taking in the scene. Other parents chatted while most tried their best to hold back tears, myself included. After the ceremony, we’d make one last walk together before she joined her classmates, heading through a gate signaling her full transition into college.
It was hard. D-mn hard.
The crowds were thick and I couldn’t see her blonde head pass through. But I tried.
Then I cried as my husband worked to hold back his own tears.
She made the most of her college years. This time, it will be her tears that are thick as she waves goodbye to friends and campus, car loaded down and many miles on the road ahead of us.
For me, it will be most difficult watching her leave a place that left her with so much.
Graduating college, for us, signals the next milestone in her life. She is moving into adulthood, and the reality of living apart from her parents is a hard one to take. But it is necessary. The goal has been and always will be equipping our Aspie for independence, for freedom.
However, letting go is downright hard. It hurts, even if it’s right and healthy.
All the old parenting worries surface, too, slightly shifting form: Will she enjoy her internship? Will she get into the law school she wants? What next?
Having autism didn’t define her. She defined it, in her own way. More importantly, during college she began to define herself.
This next phase of life is no less exciting. There’s a lot to sort out, and she’ll tackle it head on, as she always does.
But graduation? I don’t know how I’ll hold up, to be honest. Because, let’s be real, parenting is hard.