This is the first time in a week that I can find anything in my refrigerator, but the washing machine is still humming from the mountain of towels and bed linens. Our cat has finally found a quiet place to lay down his head. I am recovering from an extended celebration of my granddaughter’s college graduation that brought family members together from three continents.
The graduation was in New York, but my son and his wife arrived from Singapore, and my grandson from the UK. All in all, it was a joyous reunion, but not without its challenges. We are a family of Indian chiefs. Can you imagine breakfast taking three hours each day as each person awakes to make their own version of an omelet? One is a vegan, another lactose intolerant, still another maintaining a nutritional regime for extreme racing and adventure running.
My deck turned into an outdoor training center as members lifted weights, stretched, and did floor exercises. Just imagine if it had rained for a week during their visit! And of course, I was given free consultations on the value of healthy eating, exercise, glucose monitoring, and ways to extend one’s life.
I couldn’t help but wonder how my Connecticut neighbors live into their 80s without sophisticated devices and a plethora of information about longevity.
Over the week, three generations together, each reflecting the values and experiences of their own lives, we navigated carefully around politics, gender issues, reproductive rights, mass shootings in the U.S., body tattoos, drug use, and the war in Ukraine.
My daughter-in-law, born in Russia, continues to maintain dual-citizenship, and is defensive about the Russian invasion and how Russia is portrayed in the media. While not an ally of Putin, she is angry that Russia has become a pariah among nations, and experiences the collective shame of his actions. She is unable to sustain a discussion about any aspect of the war with her own children. My personal empathy toward the Ukrainian people, and concerns for their children abducted by the Russians, was not well received.
In hindsight, I should have kept that comment to myself, but at the time I thought it might engender a more universal response.
Especially troubling was an observation shared by my son, that “the U.S. seems more dysfunctional each time” he visits. The political polarization, mass shootings, radical abortion measures, unresolved immigration issues, and the social dissonance seem to be more glaring and pervasive. As one who follows the news with grave concerns each day, it only reinforced what many of us have come to know.
Graduations are indeed celebratory, as students close one chapter in their lives, and look forward with a myriad of feelings and expectations. It is clearly a time of transition, and depending on circumstances and resources, may engender hopefulness and a spirit of adventure, or anxiety, fear, and insecurity.
Students have had a fling with independence during college, often with the support of parents, but they are now expected to strike out on their own. Just barely away from final exams and casting their caps into the air, they have to endure “advice” and suggestions on how to manage their lives, and are queried about what they will do, how they will support themselves, and their goals for the future.
It seems to me, that once students get past the pressures of school and parental expectations, and the flurry of activities surrounding graduation, it is a time for personal reflection.
Too many young people today are programmed by parents and societal norms on how to live their lives. Graduation provides an opportunity to assert one’s autonomy, to challenge norms, and to cast off the burden imposed by others.
It is time for the helicopter parents to surrender control, and to allow their kids their own choices, mistakes, and experiences.
Yes, graduation is a celebratory time for students and parents. However, when families come together to celebrate, they bring their own family history and life experience, their generational views, and in many cases, multicultural attitudes about family, society, and global issues. It can be challenging for families during these times, unless we value the individuality of each member, and particularly the graduate, who has every right to forge their own way.
As a grandmother, I have learned when to be silent, to lead by example, to set appropriate boundaries, and to load the refrigerator. Today, I am finishing the laundry, and learning to adjust to life without them.
Claire Walsh is a retired Clinical Social Worker from Killingworth.