An Open Letter to My Graduating Daughter


Dear Daughter,

Though high school graduation is still a week away, I know that mentally your bags are packed and you are gone — just biding your time until you can start on life’s next big adventure.

In some ways, you’ve always had one foot out the door — even as a tiny girl when I would tell you I wanted you to live with me forever. You’d say, “Nope. I’m moving to China!” — the most far away place you knew of.

You didn’t cling to me, crying, or even look back when I dropped you off on the first day of kindergarten. I’d like to think that that’s because I’m a good mom; I instilled such confidence in you that you were ready to take on the world. soccer spring 2008 113

But, the truth is that’s the way you were born. I spent your early years imagining my influence over you was so much more important than it was, that you were a tabula rasa that I would impress a personality upon.

I spent so much time and energy disciplining you, fearful that one wrong decision on my part would turn you into a pierced, tattooed, high-school dropout, despite the fact that you were up in the morning before we were, earnestly working with your LeapPad books, teaching yourself to read.

I was so proud of you, but I also took you for granted. You made it look so easy to be a good student, a good athlete. I came to expect you to be perfect — straight A’s and the best on the team. When you got a 94 on a test, I’d focus on the problem you missed, not on all the ones you got right. My pushing you to be the best took all the joy out of sports.

I know you sometimes think that what I love about you is your long list of accomplishments: your class rank and SAT scores, your scholarships and awards. I gave lectures when I should have given high-fives. You are so smart and talented. I didn’t want to see you limit future opportunities by doing less than your best. It took me too long to realize that I wasn’t the machine driving you; you were driving yourself. I’m proud of your accomplishments because they are your own. As much as I’d like to think I played a role in making you who you are, you certainly are no blank slate, no genius of my invention.

Thank God you are not. I couldn’t have even imagined what a smart, funny, amazing person you would grow up to be, much less formed you into it. I don’t say it enough, but I don’t just love you. I like you. There’s no one I’d rather get a cup of coffee with, or laugh with at late-night TV. IMG_8493

If I had it to do over again, I would tell you more often how proud of you I am. You’ve always been so many of the things I wanted to be at your age — strong, independent, unafraid to want things fiercely, to believe you can make a difference in the world.

So, as you stand at the door, impatient to move on to the next stage of life, part of me wants to fill these last moments with all the things I forgot to teach you. How will you make it through college without knowing how to iron?

But I won’t use what little is left of our time together doling out advice. You’ll figure it out — just as you have everything else you needed to know, mostly in spite of my advice, not because of it.

And whether your path takes you to China or small town Texas, I’ll be proud of your accomplishments. But, I’ll be even more proud of the person you’ve become.



12191626_10101100379412814_2348393379785244241_nJenny met her husband in Indiana, married him in Kentucky, and moved with him to Texas in 2001. After working as a freelance writer for 12 years, she recently took a full-time job at Texas Christian University. She is the mother of one recently-minted adult (Madeline), one teen (Henry), a tween (Eliza), and an adorable mutt, Gracie (3).



  1. Love this, Jenny! You did raise an amazing young lady despite your best efforts in some ways, and because of them in so many others! Yes, you were quite anal about discipline and perfection from her as your only child, but with each additional child, your best efforts became much more of what she needed from you as the reins loosened! The BEST of your efforts which have most prepared her for this wonderful next step were two: both you and Ron spending time just being with her; and giving her the solid spiritual foundation, just as your parents gave you! We come from a strong spiritual heritage for which I thank God so often.


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