My daughter started high school three weeks ago, and I was flooded with emotions that came unexpectedly out of nowhere. This is coming from a highly emotional person. That’s to say, I know my feelings, I feel my feelings, and I’m aware of the highs and lows that I am capable of. And yet, this new phase of my older child’s path took me completely by surprise.
To be clear, I knew high school would be an adjustment – new building, new friends, new teachers, new schedule, and so on. What I did not expect was the breadth of all this “newness.” New building is not just some new hallways, but a huge maze for my daughter to navigate, learning which paths get her to her destination quicker and which ones to avoid. There are new people to get to know – some literally new to her, from other middle schools. Others are old friends who have changed and grown over the summer, suddenly sprouting facial hair, new unrecognizable fashions, bare midriffs, brighter lipsticks, and extra three inches in height and so forth. There’s the process of getting to know new teachers, their personalities and preferences, their testing methods, their homework frequency.
Then, there’s also the social world of high school – the hierarchy of social classes that exists in every school and takes almost no time at all for freshmen to figure out. Who sits with whom at lunch, who speaks to whom in the halls, whose sneakers are most expensive, who never does homework, who attends every football game, who drives a BMW… the list goes on and on.
I felt that my child was overwhelmed in the first couple of weeks. Moreover though, I was overwhelmed too. Because I’m so close to my daughter, I sometimes almost feel her emotions, empathizing with her exact moods. If she’s sad, I’m sad. If she’s unsure, I’m unsure. Although my role is to guide her through life, I am sometimes overcome with the same kind of stress she is – the stress of not knowing how to navigate certain situations, the stress of worrying about what will come next.
I also feel like no one talks about what high school is like for parents. Plenty of movies and books are written about the experiences of teenagers in high school. Why does no one elaborate on what the parents go through? Where are the miniseries of how moms and dads survive sending their kids into this brand new, sometimes cruel, world? I need more magazine articles on parenting teenagers, more support groups that talk about how to avoid the pitfalls of drugs in suburban American high schools, more films about moms who helped their teenagers say “no” to the pressures of losing their virginity early. In other words, parents need support and guidance too.
I’m lucky enough to be buoyed not only by an amazing husband, but also by a group of mom friends whose children have already gone through some of high school’s pitfalls. Over the years, I have relied on these wise women for advice, and have come crying to them, sometimes at two in the morning, with questions and late-night obsessive thoughts. I’m far enough into this parenting journey to know that I’m nothing without my mom support groups. The “village” has meant everything to me.
Now that we’re a few weeks into the school year, things have mostly settled down. My daughter has found her groove, as have I. However, I realize that we are just in the beginning of this high school journey, which many adventures still ahead. I don’t know what the future holds, but I’m optimistic for my girl. As for myself, I try to breathe deeply and remind myself that I’m encircled by an amazing community of mom friends who will guide me through the bumps in the road.