The days are long, the years are short. The joy and heartbreak of your child finishing school.

This week, my daughter finished school. She still has her final exams in a few weeks but the formal part of school - the lessons, the teachers, the assemblies, the packed lunches (by her not me since she was about 9), the homework - is all done.
Meanwhile, I have a friend with much younger children who has been struggling a little lately. She's at home on maternity leave with a baby, a toddler and a primary schooler. She is exhausted, bored and feels like her brain is turning to mashed avocado. 

“Sometimes, I just need everyone to stop speaking to me and wanting me every minute of every day of my life,” she told me in an early arvo vent message when all her kids were momentarily occupied. “I’ve been playing trains and changing nappies and going to the park for almost nine years now and I feel like I will never move out of this stage. Some days feel like death by park.”

This is my second experience of a child finishing school and once again, I'm feeling overjoyed and devastated about it all at once. Another friend is experiencing it for the last time as her youngest child graduates and it's hitting her extra hard. “I’ve been parenting for 20 years and now it’s over,” she texted me yesterday as her son headed of for muck-up day. “Being a mother has been a huge part of my identity for so long and now it’s like my work is done and I’m just….gutted.” 

The days are long, the years are short.

I’m not sure who said that about parenting but my god did they nail it.There are periods of motherhood that you do wish away no matter how many misty-eyed old ladies come up to you in the supermarket and urge you to “cherish every moment”. 

Look Old Ladies, I understand the sentiment and some days I too get dangerously close to whispering these words into the stressed ear of another mother with tiny kids but then I remind myself to shut up because not every moment is worth cherishing while you’re actually living it and some of the moments would be more enjoyable if you, say, punched yourself in the face. 


In hindsight, maybe when your kids are at uni and won’t return your texts, you can look back and cherish that adorable time your toddler chucked a fit in the biscuit aisle and cried so hard she threw up all over you because time heals and most glasses eventually turn rose-coloured even if you have to wipe the vomit off them first.The truth is that nobody can live in a constant state of present gratitude for anything in life, even your children, no matter how much you love them. 

There is simply not deep fulfilment or spiritual wonder or even emotional satisfaction to be gleaned from every aspect of raising a child from newborn to young adult. There are parts that are really boring, parts that are intensely repetitive and some periods that are quite frankly, excruciating. 

There are also many, many more parts of parenting that take your breath away with their magic and meaning and their ability to fill your heart while also threatening to break it into a million pieces because your love for this little (then big) person is just so primal and ferocious it feels like it may consume you.


On balance, I highly, highly recommend having kids although it’s not for everyone and that’s OK too.

Your child leaving school though… that can be unexpectedly eviscerating and that’s the place many parents where have found themselves this week as their children finish school and return home to prepare for their final exams next month.

Oh this time hits you like a punch in the heart. That’s how it felt for me and I’ve been hearing the same from my friends all week. This is a relatively new thing: parents having feelings about their children finishing school.

Do you remember your last weeks and days of school? Do your parents?

Perhaps you have memories of muck-up day pranks. Tearfully signing your friends’ uniforms and promising you’ll never forget each other. Or perhaps your memories are a bit blurry because you were drunk. If you left school any time before 2000, your parents will have no memories of your final year because they weren’t involved. “I think I came to speech day for you and your brother but Dad didn’t because no fathers did anything back then,” my Mum told me when I asked about her level of involvement. “That was about it.” Were you sad? I asked her. “I don’t think so,” she said.  I don’t think my parents even knew when my last day of school was, let alone did they have any part in it. School was my domain. Leaving it was something I did with my friends.


If you don’t have kids or if your kids are little, you need to know this: things have changed a lot.

Teenagers don’t finish school anymore. The whole family finishes school. It’s a group activity that goes on for months and involves multiple events. There are farewell breakfasts and farewell dinners and farewell cocktail parties and multiple farewell assemblies and farewell concerts and farewell awards nights. Parents attend all of them.

I know some mothers who take leave from work for the whole of term three just so they can dedicate themselves to the full ‘leaving ‘experience. I say this without any judgement. Like many mothers, I chose to deliberately scale back my work commitments during my son’s final year of school so I could be around more to provide whatever emotional or logistical support was required. Mostly, it was food. 

For parents of daughters, the experience is often different. More emotional (for them) during the year. More of a rollercoaster at home.

Regardless of your child's personal experience in their final year of school, it’s a different experience for parents these days, just like so many aspects of parenting are different now including the fact that parenting is a word our own parents never ever used because it didn’t exist. 


They were parents. They didn’t parent as an active verb.

The main effect, as I see it of all the parental involvement in the graduation of our kids is that it serves to spotlight the fact that this is a milestone for us too. This is in many ways the end of the active years of parenting. Our work is done. Our children’s values and personalities have essentially been formed and what happens next is essentially up to them. This is a big deal for everyone and I think that marking it with rituals is a wonderful thing.

Because we are very good at celebrating the start of things in our culture but very bad at even noticing the end of things let alone marking them with rituals as significant moments. A kid finishing school is a milestone within a family. I think it’s a good thing that it’s acknowledged. I cried through every single school-leaving event and felt incredibly upset for large parts of my son’s final year. With my daughter, it came down to that final couple of weeks. There have been a lot of tears from us both. In a good way.

It is always cathartic, these rituals. They have given me the time and opportunities to stop and look at the man and the woman my two oldest children have become and to marvel at how fast the years had gone. Even though the days were indeed long.

Formally, their childhood is over, I guess. But the love? That stays the same.