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The Long Goodbye: How to Survive Their Senior Year

The process of saying goodbye to your high school student begins long before dropping them off at college or basic training. Being prepared for this will help you to survive their senior year.


I wrote this post the summer after my oldest child’s high school graduation.

As we approach graduation season once again, I wanted to share these thoughts with a new group of moms.

AnnMarie and I know what you’re feeling!

All the bittersweet emotions may lead you to buy stock in your favorite tissue brand…

But you will survive their senior year.

And while everything will be different after graduation, you’ll discover it’s not different in a bad way.

Two teen girls making heart hands and mother making ILY hand sign at graduation

The Beginning of Senior Year

When AnnMarie’s oldest child graduated from high school and then left for college a few years ago I watched from the sidelines as her family dealt with the ripples.

She didn’t have an empty nest when he left, but she was the first of my friends to take a step in that direction. I didn’t really understand what she was experiencing, although my heart was heavy for her.

A year ago I began to grasp what she experienced.

An innocent piece of mail arrived in the mailbox and I was shattered.

I’m not a crying mom.

I never have been.

So what was happening all of a sudden?

It was the schedule for my son’s high school yearbook senior pictures.

And so began a year of reminders that my son would soon be leaving.

High school senior boy posing in woods with golden hour sunflare

But Isn’t an Empty Nest the Goal?

I’ve often joked that my husband and I are raising our kids to leave the nest: an empty nest has always been our end game.

I mean, we love our children and have enjoyed raising them to be funny, compassionate, loving human beings.

But at some point, we’re looking forward to life as a couple again.

Honestly, these feelings kind of caught me off guard.

Turns out I was as unprepared for this process of letting go of my son as I had been for being his mom when they first laid him in my arms.

That little appointment postcard for his senior pictures suddenly made the reality crystallize for me.

His scheduled picture day came and went with no further fanfare or emotion on my part.

But I noticed that after years of documenting and chronicling so many “firsts,” suddenly I began paying attention to the “lasts.” 

Senior Year: A Year Filled With Lasts

Being prepared for the “lasts” will really help you to survive their senior year.

After all, this is such an exciting time for them!

We don’t want to tarnish this year in their memories with our own baggage. 

Make a mental list of the moments that you anticipate may be sad for you.

This is when you lean on your girlfriends who are going through the same thing!

Or the ones who’ve been through it before you. 

Having a support network to connect with will make your teen’s senior year so much easier.

Even an online support system like the one in Grown & Flown can help (although be prepared for a lot of drama over there…).

Save your tears for another time so you can share in the excitement of these moments with your teen.

The Lasts You Will Expect

To start things off, there’s the last “first day of school.”

And the last “first day of school picture.”

Two teenage girls with older brother before first day of school

Ironically my son’s last “first day of high school” was also his twin sisters’ first “first day of high school.”

I worked hard not to show my sadness because I didn’t want to rob any of them of their excitement.

One of the big “lasts” in our family was taking the senior prom photos of his friend group.

I love these kids and their parents!

So taking great photos to share with them is special for me.

And I was prepared for most of that evening.

But when pictures were done, just before they all left for dinner, I happened to glance over and saw him just cutting loose and having some fun.

That moment caught me by surprise and it took everything I had not to burst into tears.

Pro photographer tip: NEVER put your camera away so you don’t miss pictures like this one!

Boy in tuxedo with white jacket dancing while friends laugh outside before prom

Every activity and sport will have a “last:” last game, last performance, last competition, last exhibit.

My son played baseball, and his senior night marked the end of 13 years of baseball for our family.

The final page in the final chapter of the story of our family’s summers of travel ball.

Despite the chill and the rain, we made it a celebration!

Parents and sisters with senior baseball player at high school senior night

The most obvious tearful time is graduation.

You’re probably gonna cry.

But it’s okay because your senior is celebrating down on the field.

High school seniors celebrating in caps and gowns at end of graduation

The Lasts You Don’t Expect

But just like that postcard for senior photos, there are gonna be moments you can’t anticipate.

If you want to mentally survive their senior year, just be ready for those too.

I got good at swallowing hard, and either turning away or bending down to disguise tears that might well up unexpectedly.

And there were plenty of moments that sent me to my bathroom for a sob-fest afterward.

There was something in their unexpectedness that made the emotions that much more raw.

And that’s okay.

Survive Their Senior Year by Enjoying Each Moment

Find your way of coping.

As a photographer, I found taking pictures to capture an unexpected moment helped me so much.

High school senior boy lying on couch with family cat

For instance, looking over to see him chilling out with one of our kitties.

Coming home from grocery shopping to find him working on his final art project.

This may be the end of getting new artwork to hang on the door in our kitchen, but I’d always remember his efforts thanks to this picture.

Teen boy painting a sunset with acrylic paints

The “letting go” that happened during my son’s senior year sometimes felt like a thousand little paper cuts.

Each conversation was more meaningful.

And I held on a bit longer during every hug.  

Because I know I’ll still get to see him, talk to him, and hug him.

But not every day.

The senior year marks the beginning of the end of an era.

The end of a time that I have both cherished and too often taken for granted.

So don’t just survive their senior year.

Embrace it.

Because it is such a special time!

Enjoy each hug.

Be present during day-to-day conversations.

Make time for family dinners.

And don’t sweat the little annoyances: even the dirty socks left on the kitchen table (true story).

Do you have a high school senior?

How’re you doing?

If you ever want to chat, send me an email or leave a comment below!

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