My kids' elementary school has this amazing last day of school tradition. Each class and grade—starting with kindergarten and moving on up—exits the school parade-style. After the class is out of the building, they begin forming a “tunnel” with kids standing on each side. By the time the fifth-grade class parades out of the building, they walk through a long tunnel of students, first walking past the kindergarteners, then first-graders and so on. It is a delight to behold. The little ones get so excited when they get a high five from a graduating fifth grader on their way through the tunnel, and the fifth graders feel like superstars. 

I, on the other hand, have been a puddle of tears each and every year. Even when I didn’t have a child graduating kindergarten or fifth grade—tears. Even when I didn’t know any of the fifth graders who were graduating to middle school—tears. Every year—tears. 

That’s the thing about graduations, they bring out all the feels. (And so many tears.)

Related: I wasn’t prepared for the emotions of watching my child graduate preschool 

There is something so bittersweet about these traditions and celebrations. We are excited for the next stage of childhood. But we are also nostalgic, kinda sad, and—if we’re really being honest—more than a little scared.

Because graduating to middle school is stepping into the unknown.

Middle school is changing bodies and confusing emotions. It is emotional puberty and first periods and OMG-what-is-happening down there. 

Middle school is first crushes and new friends. It is wanting to belong but not knowing where that is.

Middle school is wanting to be a big kid but still feeling like a little kid. 

Middle school is exciting and terrifying and fun and overwhelming, all at the same time.

Related: Raising a tween is hard—but so is being a tween

The summer before my oldest son started middle school, I told him: Whatever happens, just remember that, at some point, middle school is hard for everyone. It’s hard for parents, for teachers, and for kids. 

When things are hard for you, take solace in the fact that you aren’t alone. And when things are easy-breezy, relish it and lift someone else up.

Some kids are uncomfortable in their changing bodies. Some kids are struggling to find their “crew”. Some kids feel out of place and unsure of themselves. Some kids are self-conscious because they don’t fit into our prescribed beauty norms. Some kids have challenges at home. Some kids feel left out and alone. 

And when things get hard, remember: it isn’t just you and you aren’t alone. 

My advice for moms who have kids graduating into middle school is the same thing: it isn’t just you and you aren’t alone. 

As parents we sometimes forget what it was like to be a middle schooler, but then we see these fifth-grade tweens high-fiving six-years-olds—little ones who look like our kids did just a blink of an eye earlier—and it all comes rushing back to us in a wave of emotions that come out as tears. 

We are excited for the new opportunities the next few years will bring. We miss our round-cheeked little kindergarteners. We worry that the harshness of the world might dim our sweet child’s light just a little. And we hope that their light will shine brighter than any clouds the world may carry in. 

Related: To my children: This is what I wish for you 

As all these emotions are flooding our hearts and slipping out as tears, we renew our commitment to always be their safe place. To honor who they are and who they are meant to be. To prepare them for the world they are living in while also giving them tools to create the world they want to see. To never lose sight of that gap-toothed six-year-old they once were, eagerly high-fiving the big kids on their way to the next adventure. 

This is why graduations to middle school bring all the feels. And lots of tears too.