Graduating Responsible Kids Using Old Fashioned, Big Family Benign Neglect

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UMass photo

UMass 2019 graduation, but no Heeters here.


CONCORD – While at my niece’s graduation from Wheaton College a few weeks ago, I chatted with my oldest brother, Tom, about our brother John.

 “Did you know where John was during his college graduation?” Tom asked.  “Working at St. Johnsbury Trucking Company in West Springfield.”  

I had not known this, nor did I know that this brother was my classmate at UMass/Amherst – and, in fact, had graduated with me in the class of 1985.  “Yeah,” Tom laughed, “Mom was there, looked down at the program, spotted her third born’s name and said, ‘Oh, dear God, John is graduating today, too! I had no idea.’”

Susan Dromey Heeter, Joyful Musings

Today, I muse joyfully on graduations, on mothers who had no idea their sons were graduating, on mothers who are teachers, on mothers who are grateful it is June and have survived in spite of themselves.

I doubt my mother’s proudest moment was realizing she had no idea her son was graduating, but I laugh today at the big family syndrome of benign neglect, of really being out of the loop, of celebrating survival in spite of not knowing all of children’s lives.  

I am a teacher with only two children; I work with high school cherubs encouraging them to speak Spanish. I embrace their journeys.  And then I check in with my own daughters – hoping they are doing their homework, showing up for their jobs, staying out of trouble. 

And, for the most part, they have. But truth be told, they’ve learned to check their own grades, do their own assignments, get themselves to their own appointments.  And I’m grateful for this as I know they’ll be okay in the long run; my brother John has done well for himself, is happy with his own journey. I muse joyfully on the benign neglect as I know no other way.  

As I watch graduations, as I delight in the legacy of family, love and education, I celebrate the glory of allowing our children to move in ways that delight or horrify us as parents, ways that embrace responsibility and independence, ways that remind us that, truly, the lives of our children really do not belong to us.

Years ago, I ended up on a group text about one of my daughter’s school projects.  I’m not sure how I got on to this vine, but I removed myself immediately when I saw the intensity some of these parents had regarding this task: “When is the due date?” One asked, Another stated, “That’s not enough time.”  One remarked, “When are we going to get together to work on this?”

And it was as if I was having an out-of-body experience.  “Do I have to know this?” I wondered. I asked myself, “Am I supposed to be working on this project, too?”  Again, I truly felt an out-of-body experience.

Delete was my favorite verb that day.

So, I muse joyfully on basking in a life where I allow those to be responsible to be responsible – whether they be my students, my children, myself.  May you muse joyfully on stellar responsibility for your own life and a little benign neglect for your children’s. And if you get on a text talking about due dates and projects, may your favorite verb be delete.

Susan Dromey Heeter is a writer from Dover who recently let her hair go au natural white. Writing has been her passion since her English majoring days at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst.  Dromey Heeter has lived in The Netherlands, Alaska and currently basks in all things New England, including the frigid winters. An avid swimmer, Dromey Heeter’s great passion is to bring back body surfing as most children have no idea how to ride waves without ridiculous boogie boards.

The opinions expressed are those of the writer. takes no position on politics, but welcomes diverse opinions. email

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