Modern Parent
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Modern Parent

A Gift For Your Grad

Give them the gift of what you’ve learned

Photo by Honey Yanibel Minaya Cruz on Unsplash

Graduation season is nearly here. As parents, high school and college graduation is a time for relief; that both you and your kid(s) made it. They are both milestones, turning points where we see our kids beginning adulthood and careers with their own paychecks and hopefully some good health insurance.

It’s a huge step and one worth celebrating.

The question is, how do you celebrate the culmination of all your work as a parent? What can you give your kids to commemorate the sweat, blood, and tears you put into raising them?

I did the traditional party and gifts for my kids at both high school and college graduations, of course. But as I was planning the food and decorations, I couldn’t help but feel it was kind of shallow. I was marking the end of their childhood, the beginning of their adulthood with hors d’oeuvres and cake.

Kind of lame.

Since They Need Our Advice, but Don’t Listen Yet…Write it Out!

It took forever for them to grow up, and yet somehow it snuck up on me at the same time. Here they were about to go out into the world and suddenly all I could think of was all the things I hadn’t taught them.

So, I wrote them a graduation letter. With advice they might someday need but had no interest in at the moment. All the advice I wished I’d been given. I wrote different letters for high school and college graduations. Three out of three kids gave it a 10/10 as far as gifts go.

For their high school graduation, I started with the usual mushy mom stuff and then gave some generalized life advice. Their college letter (for the 2 who have finished college) was focused on advice to new nurses.

The following is the letter to my high school graduates:

Dear Child of Mine,

Congratulations! You did it, you made it! The end of high school means the beginning of a life that you, and only you, choose. And you, and only you, are responsible for those outcomes. This is where the most possibilities exist for you — both good and bad. You’ve been through so much — let it make you stronger and kinder.

The last few years have been a hell of a ride. Your ability to come through those ugly years is a testament to what a beautiful person you are. I know your kindness, intelligence, compassion, and humor are going to get you through whatever life throws at you. I wish I had the words to express how proud I am to be your momma, and how much I love you and admire who you are. Go out and conquer the world knowing that you are deeply and truly loved. As you go about your conquering, I have some hard-won advice to pass on:

1. Always look for beauty in the world, especially when things seem the ugliest. I promise — if ugly is all you see it’s because it’s all you are looking for.

2. If you still can’t find beauty, create it.

3. Any gift or ability you discover and develop in the midst of pain or suffering is yours forever. No one can ever take it from you.

4. If you decide to put the work in, you can accomplish anything. And anything you accomplish through your own effort is something you never have to be afraid of losing — because you know how to earn back.

5. Never pay full retail price for anything.

6. One of the fastest ways to become an ugly person is to think you are too good for something. Unless it is illegal or immoral…you’re not too good for it. So, empty the garbage and make the coffee.

7. Marry not just for love, but for all of the characteristics that are important to you — never think your standards are too high.

8. Hold yourself to those high standards as well.

9. A broken heart is a part of life for everyone. It sucks but remember it’s just your heart that is broken — not your spirit. And it will get a little better every day.

10. Your wealth will almost certainly be decided by how you spend your money, not how much you earn.

11. Don’t be wasteful. Learn and understand the satisfaction of using a thing up. An empty peanut butter jar and a worn-out purse are beautiful things.

12. You are worth it — whatever good and honest thing you are wondering about…you are worth it, and it is not selfish to believe in your own value.

13. You are responsible for your life, your happiness, and your outlook.

14. “Wherever Macdonald sits, there is the head of the table” (Ralph Waldo Emerson). Meaning your importance and authority in life are determined by your actions and who you are. Not your position.

15. “The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven…” (John Milton).

16. The purpose of life is to become your best, most authentic self — every day. It has to be fought for daily. It can’t be won and put on a shelf as a trophy.

17. “No punishment anyone lays on you could possibly be worse than the punishment you lay on yourself by conspiring in your own diminishment.” Parker J. Palmer

18. Procrastination is just a fancy way to say lazy.

19. Organization and planning are the easiest ways to keep chaos from taking over.

20. Evaluate your life daily and acknowledge the things done right as well as wrong. Never stop trying to get it right.

21. Accept criticism gracefully, honestly evaluate it to determine if it’s warranted. If it is, change. If it isn’t, let it go.

22. Be the first one to own up to mistakes, and the first one to forgive yourself and learn from them. We all make them (sometimes repeatedly), and anyone who pretends otherwise is not worth knowing.

23. Don’t get angry until you have all the facts.

24. Connect with nature every day.

25. When your world falls apart, sit quietly and choose the 3 most important things to you and focus on them. One foot in front of the other — just keep going and I promise that you’ll get to where you need to be.

26. Do not make excuses for people treating you poorly- if you treat them well then you should expect that in return.

27. It’s never too late to start again, to start something new, or to start over.

I am not perfect, but my motives come from love for you. Nothing you can do can erase that love. It’s yours fully, for free, and forever,


This graduation season write to your kids. Give them something they can’t get anywhere else or from anyone else. Give them your best advice and hard-earned wisdom. The truth is they won’t care about it for a few years so give your advice in written form. This way it’ll be there for them in the exact moment they need it enough to look for it.

It’ll last longer than a watch.



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Amy Torbenson

Amy Torbenson

Mom of two amazing sons and one amazing daughter, lifelong reader of anything and everything, (really) slow runner, and a terrible cook.