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Here I am, 365 days out from the empty nest.

The temptation is to spend a year boring you with lasts. The last first day of high school, the last birthday at home (trust me, this one is the real killer), or the last varsity game. But I am going to try and resist the pull to be maudlin and instead create a Parent’s Bucket List for Senior Year in high school, perhaps better thought of as the Last Call List… Everything I wish I had done before my kids went to college.

7 Things to Do During Your Teen’s Senior Year

  1. Pay a professional photographer: Try for that one perfect set of family pictures that no amateur can capture. It seems like the kids are grown, that the need to document their gorgeous faces has lost its urgency as the transitions slow.  Wrong. That just-finished-childhood-not-quite-adult look is fleeting. Get someone who knows what they are doing to capture it.
  2. Talk about failure and tell them of your failings: Tell them why you failed and how you recovered and how, for some period of time you thought you might not. We loom so large in our children’s lives, as the people who once held superpowers. Let them know how those powers have often failed you as both an adult and a parent.
  3. Buy them one beautiful thing: This moment, these last days, are worthy of commemorating and do not let them slip by unmarked.  Jewelry and watches are traditional choices for senior year, but beauty and meaning, not expense, are the salient factors in this purchase.
  4. Tell them secrets: Disclose what they just might not know, things about your life that you, perhaps, glossed over, but now realize that they are old enough to understand. You will be letting them know that things are not always as they seem, and that they are a trusted near-adult confident, worthy of sharing family secrets.  You child is probably 18, talk to them like the adult that they will soon be;  it will fill them with the confidence to get there.
  5. Let them go before they are gone: I kept my kids on an insanely tight leash senior year. I monitored their every movement and made them check-in constantly.  In short, I drove them crazy. And then I didn’t. Once they were on the downslope of senior year, once everything they could do for college admission had been done, I let them take some victory laps, the well deserved privilege of senior year. They broke curfews, went out on a few school nights, and had a taste of freedom to come.
  6. Have those painful talks: Sit down and have the discussion, the one you will wish you had had if, God forbid, anything ever goes wrong.  Sure, you can tell them where the wills are and how you hope to see your possessions disbursed.  But this is not that talk.  This is the talk where you recognize that you are speaking to a near-adult and you tell them why you love their other parent, what makes a good marriage, how shocking it was to find yourself a parent and yet how marvelous, what kind of wife/mother husband/father you hope they will one day be.  It will feel sad, and poignant, but while you are still in that day-to-day high school routine, take a step back and talk about the really big things in life.
  7. And just for a minute grab them tight and hold them close: Give them the morning hug that had slipped out of your routine, and the kiss on the forehead that was, for years, a nightly ritual. Sit by their bed with a hand on theirs because this is the time to try and capture that feeling forever. This is the moment for that final squeeze, the brief moment when we clench them even tighter, hold them close enough to take our breath away and then let them go.

Lisa Heffernan and Mary Dell Harrington, the cofounders of Grown & Flown, are writers, moms, and friends. They created Grown and Flown when each of their youngest kids were in high school and their oldest kids were in college. It has become the #1 site for parents with teens and college students, reaching millions of parents every month. They are also co-authors of Grown and Flown: How to Support Your Teen, Stay Close as a Family, and Raise Independent Adults. (Flatiron, 2019). See their book.

In their past incarnations, Mary Dell worked in television and media, and Lisa had a career that included Wall Street, politics, and writing. Lisa is a New York Times bestselling author of three books, including Goldman Sachs: The Culture of Success. Lisa, a California native, graduated from UC San Diego and MIT. Mary Dell is a graduate of the UT Austin and Harvard Business School. Visit the Grown & Flown website.