My youngest son is home for the summer from his freshman college year. It went well. He enjoyed his nine months away and succeeded academically. He also played football (minor concussion, but recovered fully, thankfully) and rugby (scraped up just about every inch of his body, including his lovely face!), made a lot of new friends, and learned to live in a small space (in relative harmony) with two other young men. The whole college experience.
It’s been a year since he graduated from high school and I was faced with the fact that my last child would be leaving soon to go off on his own to start “adulting.” I worried about so much. Would he be homesick? Would he make friends? Have I done enough to prepare him for being on his own?
Yesterday, I came across a letter that I wrote to him after he graduated. Apparently, I was worried about a lot of things. I also realize, after rereading the letter, that I had nothing to worry about. He was prepared. I think I was worried more about myself than about him. I made this human–he’s my flesh and blood! Now he’s leaving? How will I cope? I’m being abandoned . . . again . . .
Of course, the abandonment part wasn’t true. My son was prepared and ready to go out on his own and live the college life. And I knew and supported it one hundred percent. But I must admit, I felt a little empty inside.
As it turns out, I had no reason to worry. I wasn’t abandoned (he’s back!). And I’ve discovered that life can be pretty good for empty-nesters. I finished some projects (my book is finally finished and published–BTW: you can find it here), visited my bio-dad, Jonathan, again (and my husband, Guy, finally got to meet him), and even communed with some fellow-adoptees (loved meeting everyone at the Indiana Adoptee Network Conference). The hubs recently retired, too, so we’re in the thick of it!
But if you’re getting ready to send of your kid out into the big bad world, and you’re as worried as I was, I share here my advice to my son:
April 26, 2018
As your graduation day approaches, we want to say “Happy graduation.” Son, you are on the cusp of your adult life (you’re 18 now!) and we are so proud of you. Your Dad and I have so much love and respect for you—you are smart, talented, thoughtful and kind.
I’m writing this letter to you because sometimes it’s difficult for me to articulate what is in my heart. I always do better to write things down. I want to express to you my pride and my hopes for your life ahead. Also, one day I may not be here to help you deal with pain, to help you be strong, to give you comfort, and to see you win and succeed. I hope that you’ll keep this letter for future reference and think of me when you need encouragement and support.
I wrote this letter to pass on the best of what I am, and the best of what I have learned – even if like most parents, I haven’t always been able to follow all of this advice myself.
These words are from my heart and rooted in my firm belief that you will be better than I am, and that you will be successful in whatever you decide to pursue in your life ahead.
Age is not a measure of maturity, unfortunately. You have grown up, but you will continue to mature, for years and years to come.
Maturity means taking responsibility for your own life and the choices you make. Keep in mind that every choice you make from this point on can and will affect you for the rest of your life. Decisions like whether to get in the car with that friend that has had maybe too much to drink, or whether to ditch a lecture, whether to stay the night in someone else’s bed . . . there are so many decisions that may seem trivial at the time, but the consequences of even what seems like an insignificant choice may change your life forever. Be smart.
You will make mistakes. Know and understand that you don’t have all the answers. You should not feel shame or hesitate to ask for help or advice.
Don’t feel threatened when people disagree with you. And most importantly, be open to allowing people to change your mind. Sometimes another person’s way is the better way.
Appreciate when others compliment or praise you. Say “thank you” a lot. Manners and courtesy matter and go a long way in commanding respect.
Don’t ever think that you’re superior to anyone. Or that you’re above rules or laws. It’s ugly to be arrogant. Apologize when you’re wrong, or when you’ve hurt someone. Remember that other people’s emotions and feelings are valid and important—even if you don’t agree or understand.
Never stop being curious. Be adventurous. Try new things. Keep learning—it will make you a richer person. Pick up a good book once in a while. Read for pleasure. It will enlighten you. Life is large.
Challenge yourself—don’t be afraid to fail. Failure is one of the best ways to learn.
While you’re embracing adventure and new hobbies, remember to finish what you start. I’m know I’m guilty of not following this rule all the time. Remember that productivity and success are about finishing and a job well done. You won’t do everything perfectly, or even right, but finish it. Be proud of your work.
In your short 18 years, I know that you’ve felt many emotions. Happiness, joy, contentment, impatience, sadness, anger, and frustration. These are all simple emotions and have and will continue to come easily to you. It’s how you deal with them that is important. You must give every emotion its due—feel it fully and let it sit. For example, sit with your anger before you react. Consider how your reaction will affect others. Sometimes the only reaction you will need is an internal one. That is not to say that you shouldn’t feel angry or react some of the time, but anger shouldn’t be the reaction that rules you. It shouldn’t be the emotion that others know you by.
On the other hand, don’t be afraid to express your emotions. Don’t let controlling people make you think you shouldn’t feel a certain way. Trust your emotions. Because you will have sat with and processed your emotions, you can, and should trust them. Fear and anger serve a purpose, and you should recognize that. Trust yourself.
I haven’t really talked to you about two of the biggest emotions—grief and love. I’ll talk about love later separately—it’s very complicated. But grief deserves a mention here.
I think, somehow, you know a little about grief—more than most boys your age. When you were a little boy, grief confused you and you were very sensitive to it. Your father and I were often at a loss on how to comfort you. When you were just a toddler, we often found you in tears inconsolable, thinking about grandpa or grandma, and what happened to them and why they were gone. You felt deeply also when you lost your pets—you were hysterical when we had to euthanize Hey Arnold (the rat) and when we lost Soxie (the cat). You wanted explanations that just didn’t exist.
So I believe you know grief—I witnessed it—and I trust that your maturity will allow you to process your grief, but understand that losing someone or something you love may never make sense. You must put logic aside when you’re dealing with grief and just let it flow. Don’t be afraid to cry. It shows that you are vulnerable and understand your emotions. In the end, it makes you stronger. Remember that your grief is about you, and not the person you lost. The person that is gone is no longer suffering, or in pain . . . your sorrow is about how you deal with your loss.
People and Relationships
Grandpa Hank told me once that if you open your eyes and your mind, you can learn something from every single person you meet in life. He was right. Be open. In your life you will meet people who inspire you to do well and to do the right thing. I hope that these are the people you keep close to you.
You will also meet people who are not such a good influence. I don’t want you to shun these people—learn from them. Help them if you can. Be generous with your kindness. Perhaps you can be an inspiration to them. I’ve seen you already be generous with your kindness and empathy. Continue this path.
Remember that your family is your “safe place.” Home is where ever you feel comfortable—where ever you have family and/or friends to comfort you.
Friends, too, have a huge impact on your happiness. Good friends relieve stress, provide comfort and joy, prevent loneliness and isolation, and even strengthen your health. But close friendships don’t just happen. They take work and perseverance. Show interest in your friends when they are down, when they need help, and when they are struggling. Even if you just “stand there” next to them. It matters. Just show up.
Nurture and hold on to true friendships. Keep in touch with people that matter to you.
In a new place, like college or a new job, it may seem difficult to meet new people and develop quality connections. Be confident and open—you will attract the right people naturally with your warm personality and attitude if you let them see you for who you are.
Of course, technology has shifted the definition of friendship in recent years. With the click of a button, we can “add a friend” or make a new connection. But having hundreds of online friends is not the same as having a close friend you can be with in person. Online friends can’t hug you when a crisis hits, visit you when you’re sick, or celebrate a happy occasion with you. Remember that our most important and powerful connections happen when we’re face-to-face. So, make it a priority to really stay in touch with friends that are important to you.
On Love and Marriage
I’m not going to tell you much about falling in love or falling out of love. Love is something that you will figure out on your own, like everyone else. Love will sneak up on you and hit you when you least expect it. Sometimes, you will only think you’re in love, when in actuality, the emotion you are feeling is something different—lust, infatuation, admiration, extreme like. But when real love hits, you’ll know it. Maybe not right away, but you’ll figure it out. And that’s just it, my dear son, it is something that needs to be figured out. Again, it’s one of those emotions that you need to sit with and process. Don’t resist it, but please, oh please, take it slow.
You will get your heart broken, too. Maybe even more than once (probably more than once). Love is a risky thing, but it is the best feeling in the world when you are in it and the person you love loves you back. Remember that to be truly in love two people must also respect each other, trust each other and be kind to each other. If one element isn’t there, or if something doesn’t feel right, love isn’t there.
Now we come to the part about marriage. I’m no expert, but as far as I know, there is no such thing as the perfect marriage. Here’s my advice—don’t get married because your partner is pressuring you. Don’t get married because it seems like it’s the right time—you’ve been dating long enough and you feel like you’re the right age. Don’t get married because she seems like the perfect woman or she’d be the perfect wife or mother. Son, you’re probably going to want to get married for all the wrong reasons. We all do. In fact, the most common reason to get married also happens to be the most dangerous: we get married because we think it will make us happy. Getting married in order to be happy is the surest way to be unhappy and get divorced.
More simple advice:
Opposites may attract initially, but they don’t make great marriage partners. Marry someone who is more like you than not like you.
Pay attention to what your friends and family say. Consider that if nobody close to you seems to like your partner, there may be good reason for it.
Just know that you are worthy of real love. Wait for it and it will come to you. Know that you deserve a life of love, inspiration, and passion. Also know that there will be ups and downs and to expect and embrace them.
There are beautiful marriages. But marriages don’t become beautiful by seeking happiness; they become beautiful by seeking something else. Marry someone that you enjoy spending time with. Someone who truly loves you and makes an effort to make you happy.
One last word of advice—take time out once in a while to unplug and listen to the birds sing, watch a sunset, or go someplace quiet and beautiful to reset your mind and remember what is important. I know you love sunsets like your mama! That makes me happy.
What kind of man will you be? That’s up to you. Completely. Being a man, as I see it, is being your own man. It’s claiming your place in the world. Being your own man means not taking someone else’s path. I am proud of your journey so far and I know your path will lead to your own personal success and greatness.
We love you, Son.
P.S. You once asked me about how to live, be responsible, and have “fun” in college. I found this quote from the late, great Tom Petty about college that seems to sum it up. I hope you understand that it doesn’t mean that you should just forget responsibilities while at college, but it does mean that you should go easy on yourself once in a while.
“I’ve learned one thing, and that’s to quit worrying about stupid things. You have four years to be irresponsible here, relax. Work is for people with jobs. You’ll never remember class time, but you’ll remember the time you wasted hanging out with your friends. So stay out late. Go out with your friends on a Tuesday when you have a paper due on Wednesday. Spend money you don’t have. Drink ’til sunrise. The work never ends, but college does…”
― Tom Petty