The Privilege of Parenting an 18-Year Old

We’ve been a bit off-topic here lately. However, with my daughter’s graduation from high school this spring, my mind has been elsewhere.

More specifically, it’s been thinking about how unexpectedly wonderful this time has been. It’s been an opportunity to not only look back at the last 18 years with pride – we did it! – but also to look forward with hope and optimism.

Better than Having a Newborn

When kids are born, it’s a miraculous time. Here is this new little life, so full of possibility and wonder. What will they do? Who will they become?

With every child, I thought the same thing: this is the time I get it right. And yet, I never did “get it right.”

I was in college with the first one. I was a stressed parent with the next two. Number four ended up spending much of those first precious years being carted to his dad’s endless doctor visits or being shuffled between babysitters so we could do chemo, radiation and all that other fun cancer stuff.

Then the positive pregnancy test for number five happened, and I thought this is it. Finally. I’ve got this parenting thing under control. What could go wrong? Of course, poor number five made her grand entrance just as her dad was making his exit. So scratch the parenting dreams. Instead, she was largely raised by Sprout TV while her mom spent three years trying to pull herself together.

This thing is this: newborns come with so much potential, but they often arrive at a less-than-ideal time for parents. Even if there is no outside drama – no sickness, no poverty, no long work hours – to pull you from your infant, chances are you simply aren’t operating at your very best. You’re sleep-deprived; you’re hormonal if you’ve just given birth; and you’re trying desperately to meet this ideal image that society and your own mind have laid before you.

By the time your child hits 18, that pressure is largely gone for many parents. You’re sleeping through the night. Your days are no longer spent in an endless cycle of feeding, changing diapers and crying softly, wondering whether your offspring will ever nap. Even better, you have way more me-time, because teens, unlike infants, don’t usually want to spend every waking hour with mom.

A New Beginning and a Clean Slate

While 18-year olds don’t have the same cute factor as newborns, they too are going through a miraculous time. Whether they are entering the workforce or heading off to college, this is a time of tremendous transformation.

In most cases, older teens are entering adulthood with a blank slate. They don’t have debt weighing them down. They don’t have the memory of poor career choices hanging over their heads. Their life is rolled out in front of them as an unchartered territory.

That’s why I think we as parents are so privileged to witness this time. We can’t make decisions for our 18-year olds. We can no longer control their destinies, but if the cards fall right, we can be by their sides as advisors and mentors to help them make the most of this new start.

We can encourage them to…

Avoid debt
Budget wisely
Explore possibilities
Educate themselves
Prioritize goals
Remain rooted in family

As a parent, I find this to be both an exciting and nerve-wracking time. I know the stakes are high. I don’t want my kids to make the same mistakes I did.

However, I also realize I can’t badger or harass them into seeing the world my way. Instead, I hope they will know that I didn’t wash my hands of them when they turned 18. I want them to know that I am here to share, to advise, to listen if that’s what they want.

I hope they will take me up on that offer. Helping them would be my privilege.


    1. Maryalene, there is a lot of universal wisdom in this post. Even though I have adult children, I am going to send them this post.
      Karin Waterbury

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