Recently, I was talking with a friend whose daughter is graduating high school. Her daughter is so amazing—kind, a leader, smart, mature, beautiful, inclusive, level-headed. I can’t say enough nice things about her. When I asked about her daughter’s college plans, her mom told me she was going out of state. We stood quietly until my friend, with tears in her eyes, said, “I am going be a mess at her graduation.”

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“I know,” I said in reply. “You should be proud of her. She is spectacular.” Because what can I say? It hurts, yet it is such a great privilege and joy to see our children grow.

Afterwards, my 12-year-old daughter asked me, “Why do moms always cry at these things?”

“Because we are proud of you,” I told her. “And we’re sad. And we’re crazy.”

I keep seeing my friends on social media with their children graduating preschool, kindergarten, middle school, high school, and college. We say things like, “Too soon!” “Too fast!” and “How is this possible!?” because we know that these events are exciting—worthy of congratulations—but also bittersweet. They are new beginnings, but they are endings as well.

So we cry.

We cry because we are sad.

Our baby is growing. We will never get that time back. It is over. They are moving on to a new stage, and we need to move on, too. We’ll miss their sweet baby cheeks and their smelly sports equipment in our car. We will miss packing their lunches and spending time together the way we used to.

As our babies grow, they need us less and less. When we were in the trenches of caring for babies and toddlers, we thought the day would never come where they’d be walking proudly off to their new adventure on their own.

Yet here it is. Each milestone brings our babies a little further away. It is how it should be, but it is sad.

We cry because we are afraid.

We don’t know what life has in store for our babies. Will the future be kind to them? Have we done enough to prepare them for the challenges they will encounter? It is hard sending our children forward and further where we cannot protect them as much as we could when they were smaller. But we cry trusting that we have done enough.

We cry hoping they know that we are still here if they need us.

We cry because we are proud.

That child is our greatest investment. We have poured so much time, love, money, tears, worries, and hope into our children that we are bursting with pride over who they have become. Each child is so beautiful. And with these milestones, moms see that their children got by just fine. They made it. They didn’t need us as much as they did to make it to their last milestone, and even though that hurts, we delight in their unique talents and abilities.

Not every child can graduate first in his class, but each child has a mom who cannot imagine her child turning out any better than he already is. So, we cry from our immense pride at who our children are growing into.

We cry because we love you.

How is it possible that we got so lucky to be your mother? How did the years go by so quickly? Did we love you enough? Do you feel the pull of our love as strongly as we do? Likely not. You are moving forward, but we are clinging to you. Not on the outside of course. We know it is healthy for you to go forward, have adventures without us, and discover more of who you are. We will let you go because we love you. But internally, we are clinging to the thick rope of love that connects our heart to yours. We will always feel that love pulling us towards you.

So we cry. Because we are sad and afraid, but also bursting with pride and love. And, sweet child, wherever you may go in life, you should know that you can always come home. My love will still be here waiting.