This week, one of my daughter’s best friends left home for his delayed gap-year experience: a semester-at-sea sailing program starting in South Africa.

Bon voyage, Zack. Goodbye, you Prince of Maine, you son of Canadians and you chauffeur to my daughter, who has yet to acquire her license. Thank you for driving her everywhere. We will miss you. Be safe. We owe you gas money.

Saying goodbye to Zack is a reminder of how soon I will be saying goodbye to our only daughter. College applications are nearly finished, and after 17 years of parenting, I am dangerously close to becoming one of the walking wounded: an empty nester.

What I know so far about the parents I know: Whatever school we have chosen – private or public – and whatever town we live in – big or small – we are all doing our very best to safely launch our kids into the world.

The following is an imperfect and incomplete list of do’s and don’ts created from my 17 years of individual parenting mistakes. Take it or leave it.

 Do hold your tongue when tempted to gossip about other people’s kids. The party that got busted in the neighboring town may not have involved your son or daughter – this time – but let’s face it, all teenagers are capable of doing stupid things, and that includes yours. Their brains are not fully formed.


 Don’t pull your child out of a class or a school unless it’s the last resort. Having a bad teacher or attending a bad school is subjective. The big, big problem at the beginning of the year is usually fixed within three months. Doing nothing is sometimes the wisest choice.

 Do advocate for your kid. Advocating is not bragging.

 Don’t apologize for advocating for your kid.

 Do brag about your kid to your mother, your spouse and your dog.

 Don’t clean your kid’s room. They don’t care if every item of clothing they own is on the floor. They don’t care if their friends have to wade through piles of dirty clothes to get to sit on the unmade bed with the gritty sheets. Instead, clean your own room.

 Do make your kid do his or her own laundry. You will never have to do a smell-test again.


 Don’t read your kid’s emails, texts or tweets. It will only burn your eyes. Their phone is their diary. Deal with it.

 Do confiscate their phone if they break your house rules. Having a phone is a privilege, not a right. (This is also an excellent opportunity to read their emails, texts and tweets.)

 Do welcome all of your kid’s friends into your house. The bad-seed teenager may turn out to be a very different adult. If not, having a hooligan as a friend might come in handy someday.

 Do send your kid to away camp. The friends he or she makes during those weeks will last a lifetime.

 Do (for my Portland comrades and anyone who lives in a town big enough to have more than one public high school) let your kid choose his or her school. The process is torture for both parent and kid, but it is the first big decision they will make about their future. If it doesn’t work out, ignore Tip No. 2 and pull ’em.

 Don’t worry about what your kid wears. Fashion is one of the few things she controls. Seeing your 12-year-old in a miniskirt and makeup for the first time is confusing. But it’s part of her personal expression and not usually a sign of criminal behavior. Some girls just like to dress up.


 Do tell your daughter that she is beautiful. Do tell your son that he is handsome. And then tell them again.

 Do get a dog, no matter how crazy-busy you are.

In eight months, our daughter will leave us. Without her, the floor will be empty of discarded clothes and wet towels. The bathroom sink will be clear of makeup, hair spray, fluorescent toothpaste gobs and an endless number of bobby pins that slip down the drain, creating a dam of hair and metal.

Shoes will sit still, one next to the other, waiting for action. Too many glasses will be stacked and clean in the kitchen cupboard. Her bed will stay made.

A child will be launched. Chaos will be deleted. The wounded will walk.

Jolene McGowan lives and works in Portland with her husband, daughter and dog and has no plans to leave, ever. She can be contacted at:

[email protected]

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