Rites of Passage

parents hugging their graduate son
May 13, 2020 | Sara Khaki

Acknowledge What’s Missing this May

May is full of educational milestones. It’s the end of the school year, and a lot is happening for parents and students. There are finals, parent-teacher meetings, end-of-year parties, and perhaps most importantly, graduations. At least, this is how the month of May usually goes. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, these year-end traditions have been canceled for most students across the country.

As a parent, it feels so strange not to have these school events with my children. My son’s elementary school always does a big outdoor party on the last day of school. Meanwhile, my daughter is in preschool, and they were supposed to have a graduation ceremony for the kids. Neither of these events will be taking place now. As devastating as this is for my family, I can only imagine how hard things are for families whose children are graduating from high school or college.

Graduation ceremonies are cherished rites of passage for students moving into adulthood, especially graduating from high school. The high school experience only lasts four years, but it’s such an important part of the culture in the United States. In my family, graduations are as important as weddings. Getting to walk across that stage in a cap and gown is a celebration of all the hard work that went into reaching that milestone. In many ways, this celebration is for parents and students alike. Though students are still graduating from school, my heart goes out to the families who don’t get to experience the joy of the commencement ceremony due to the pandemic.

In difficult times, it’s important to be resilient and learn how to navigate a new normal. This is something we see so much during the divorce process. That said, it is important to acknowledge what we have lost and give ourselves permission to grieve that loss. High school and college seniors have had something important stripped away from them. Though these experiences are small in the grand scheme of life, they are experiences that matter. It’s okay for students to feel sad about what they’ve lost.

Likewise, it’s okay for parents to feel grief over not being able to experience these rites of passage with their children. Any opportunity you have as a parent to see your child dress up, have their name called on stage, and be celebrated for their accomplishments is something to look forward to. Having that taken away hurts. It’s good to be resilient and see the silver lining, but that doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to feel grief over what you have lost.

In order to give their children permission to feel upset about what they’ve lost, parents need to set the example of being vulnerable themselves. Let your kids know that missing out on these year-end events hurts. We will not dwell on the loss forever or refuse to move forward, but it’s perfectly okay to take a minute and take inventory of your feelings. Take inventory of the fact that this situation can make you mad or upset. Acknowledge the experience you or your child are having right now. This is the only way we’ll truly be able to move forward and look ahead to the next rite of passage your family will experience together.

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