Parenting Perspectives: Grad Party Stress

[Please enjoy my latest parenting column, which was printed today in The Forum, North Dakota’s largest daily newspaper, as it is one Tuesday a month. Reprinted with permission.] Parenting Perspectives:

Grad Party Stress

By Roxane B. Salonen, The Forum

It’s that time of year when garages are transformed from vehicle ports to graduation-party venues, when home renovations are frantically finished to make way for an entourage of guests.

I can already see the forced smiles of some of the young, honored hosts who will stand at doorways greeting visitors, looking as though they’ve just arrived at boot camp. “Anywhere but here,” their looks will scream.

For the record, I enjoy these chances to mingle with friends, sample delicious food and witness another birdie readying for flight. But I also must confess that as a parent who will be in grad-party-planning-mode soon, attending such events has, at times, been a source of rising consternation.

Even with three years to go, I’ve already begun taking notes, much like the future bride surveying the details at her friends’ weddings.

It’s a bit overwhelming, to say the least. Back on the Fort Peck Reservation in Montana where I grew up, in the late 1980s, graduation celebrations were unheard of. I remember sending a few invitations to faraway friends and being thrilled to receive a few gifts in the mail as a result, cherished items I could take with me to college. It was minimal, but I didn’t know any differently.

Enter the modern-day graduation gala with its fancy touches – candies wrapped in foil with outer wrappings that include photos of the graduate; picture-perfect PowerPoint presentations displaying the entire lifespan of the honoree on the wall; and tantalizing, themed buffets.

I’ve experienced everything from a simple taco bar to a grander, catered spread, from professionally created, layered cakes to do-it-yourself root-beer float lines, and all the dazzling extras in between – streamers, mints and ambient music.

I’ve been touched seeing mothers helping each other to ensure these events go off smoothly. But even while admiring it all, this gnawing feeling of needing to keep up has crept in.

That is, until the day a fellow mom of many and I shared our common concerns of grad parties to come. Feeling mutually empowered by our conversation, we came up with some possible grad-party trends of our own:

  • Team up with other families of grads to rent a place to have a joint party. This will allow the sharing of resources and reduce the frenzied party-hopping by students wanting to give equal time to all classmates.
  • Consider personality types and offer more introverted children an alternative, such as a reasonably priced trip to mark the event in a different but memorable way.
  • Invest in something valuable for the future that might not be possible with party and house-renovation expenses in the mix.
  • Go on a mission trip to help prepare for the real world in a more enduring and meaningful way.

Certainly, we should celebrate hard-earned achievements with great enthusiasm. But as the mother of five future grads, I’m finding the need to pull away from the self-induced pressure of coming up with the next cool idea.

I’d like to avoid becoming the symbolic bride who planned well for the wedding at the expense of the marriage itself.

However you celebrate your child’s passage from one phase to another, may it be joy-filled and memorable. These are the times that allow us to reflect on all we’ve accomplished together. Happy graduation.

Roxane B. Salonen works as a freelance writer and children’s author in Fargo, where she and her husband, Troy, parent five children. She blogs on family life at