Opinion: Yes, seeing your teen graduate high school is a gift in itself, but this mom says it's OK for parents to give themselves more than a pat on the back for getting them through this milestone.

By Katie Bingham-Smith
Photo by Getty Images

I have a freshman in high school, and I just shelled out $70 for his yearbook. We are only one year into his high school career, and I’m already exhausted and wondering if I have what it takes to get through these next three years. But let me tell you, when I do, I’m treating myself to something big.

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When our kids are in diapers and throwing a tantrum every 10 seconds, I think many of us are under the impression as they get older things might get a bit easier.

But the high school years are when parents accumulate the most gray hair—the days of endless talks about sex, drugs, bullying, and peer pressure.

These are the years we need to tune in the most, lest something huge flies under the radar. When they are little, it's pretty easy to tell if something is up because typically they tell you.

Teenagers speak a different language. Not only is it our responsibility as parents to decode that language, we are simultaneously tasked with college visits, driving lessons, and making sure they have the latest sneakers.

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We stay up late when they are out despite wanting to crawl into bed; we check their phones; we check the parent portal; we check their eyes and breath when we are suspicious. We pay close attention to their mood swings and behaviors and try and tell the difference between “normal teenage behavior” and a red flag alerting us something is wrong with our child.

We travel all over Timbuktu watching them play sports, making sure they have what they need in order to be the best they can be.

"Don't forget your cleats," we say.

"Don't be a jerk," we say.

And then they walk out the door sans cleats and are kind of a jerk anyway.

We dole out the pep talks; we show up each and every day because we realize this last chapter of having them under our roof is coming to an end faster than a pat of butter sliding down a stack of hot pancakes.

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We wonder if we've taught them all we could; we question ourselves when we give them advice about relationships; we want everything for them, but we know we've got to sit back and let them take control of their lives. They will never learn to do laundry, make a sandwich, or walk away from a toxic friend if we keep doing it for them.

It's more exhausting to sit back and watch them live and learn through their experiences than it is for us to take control and do it ourselves or tell them exactly what they need to say.

We’ve had far too many sleepless nights and days you wanted to tear your hair out. We’ve pushed them really hard because they were capable of more.

And then, just like that, you see your baby—your toddler, your child, your young adult—walking down the aisle in their cap and gown looking so excited for what lies ahead. You wonder how you got here because really, weren't they taking their first step five minutes ago? Didn't you just drop them off for their first day of second grade? When did they become this young adult who knows how to do stuff and is going to be just fine?

Yes, they are the star of the show, but you are the supporting actor. And by that, I mean you need to remember is this all happened because of the sweat and tears you put into your kids—it comes with the job—but we never know what that job feels like until we are enduring the hard labor it takes to raise a decent human being. And during the high school years is when that work ramps up and feels impossible some days.

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So, to all the parents of graduates this year and every year: please celebrate yourself. Yes, your child did some hard work, but so did you. You were behind the scenes worrying. You were the one who reminded them 45 times to remember their uniform. It was you who pushed them when they felt like giving up. And you were there trying to soothe their heart during their first heart break.

Don't forget your hard work deserves something to celebrate all you did—take a trip, go out to a fancy dinner, buy that handbag you've been drooling over for year, or get a pedicure. Of course watching your child graduate is a gift in itself, but take the time to do something a bit extra.

And then, if they decide to go to college and you find yourself watching them walk down the aisle for a second time with the graduation march in the background, do it again.

Katie Bingham-Smith lives in Maine and is a full-time freelance writer. She's writes about all things parenting, food, and fashion.