This past Labour Day weekend I lived through a life changing milestone as a parent and to be honest,
I am still recovering from it. I moved my youngest child, my baby girl, into her University residence.
How could it possibly have already been time to do that? When your children are small and you are exhausted from chasing after them, people always tell you to enjoy the time, despite the challenges, because it is gone before you know it. Well I can tell you that this is absolutely true. I feel like I blinked and my little girl was all grown up and heading out on her own. Truly the fastest 18 years ever!
I say I am still recovering because it was difficult to say goodbye, and yes, sometimes I do still run up to her room when I get home, forgetting that she isn’t going to be there doing her homework or chatting with her friends. The house is different without her. Life is different without her. But she was ready, and for that I am both grateful and proud.
In preparation for her departure I started looking at various articles published about this time of life.
Did you know there is a Parent Guide called “The Launching Years”? After looking through the guide, specifically aimed at people parenting teens during their final two years of high school, it hit me that the launching years really shouldn’t just start when a child turns 16, but rather their whole life should be about preparation to launch.
One of our most important jobs as parents is to raise children to become independent and self-reliant people. This needs to start right from the beginning. Once an infant no longer relies on a parent for nourishment and mobility the child takes the necessary steps to become more independent, all the while still depending on the parent for love, protection and guidance. As each developmental phase ends, a new one begins and the goal of greater independence must be at the heart of all progress. It is the parent’s job to help their children on the journey of separation and self-reliance. This process helps prepare the child for the demands of adulthood. The progression toward adulthood is not inevitable, however, and it can actually be stymied or halted by our well-intentioned, but misguided, parental selves.
As parents, we want the best for our children and often think that protecting them from any hardship
(or from making mistakes) is helping, when in fact it is hindering. Children need to endure some difficulties to gain the independence necessary to grow into the adults they were meant to be. Independent children don’t just happen. If our children are independent it means we provided them with the belief that they are competent and capable of taking care of themselves. It means we gave them the freedom to live a life full of experiences and lessons.
It all sounds great doesn’t it, but how do we make this happen? A good start is to allow our children opportunities to explore activities of their own choosing. We should engage in collaborative, respectful discussions with them (and yes even allow them to disagree with us!) and finally, we must demonstrate our confidence in their ability to have control over their own lives. And now here’s the biggie…we must also help our children become accountable for their actions. Yes, imagine that! Our current culture seems to hold us back in this regard. Our children continually receive messages that nothing is their fault and this is definitely a problem. The reluctance to allow children to take responsibility for their own actions, blaming outside forces for every failure or bump in the road, actually holds our children back from becoming the autonomous beings they were born to be.
Striking a balance between support and challenge is possibly one of the tougher jobs along the parenting journey but it is truly critical to the process of launching.
“Declining Student Resilience: A Serious Problem for Colleges”, an article posted this September, outlines the increasing difficulty our teenagers have leaving home for college and university and how unprepared they are for the rigours of functioning without parental hand-holding and micro managing. Colleges and Universities are expecting our young people to come to them as adults, capable of taking care of their own everyday life problems. Sadly, this is no longer the case. Our children are afraid to fail and external measures of success have become more important to them than learning and personal development. Clearly limiting the launching years, and all this entails, to the final two years of high school, is failing our children. It is also causing great angst and unnecessary burden for those in society that must help our children in areas where they should be capable of helping themselves.
So I rest my case – ‘preparing to launch’ should be a life-long process that begins from the moment our babes can do even the smallest thing for themselves.
C.S. Lewis described letting go as one of the greatest acts of love. In letting go we relinquish control and abandon ownership. We walk away from something that we have held dear. Grant it, there is sadness in that but don’t worry, we never really lose our children. They carry us, and all the years of learning from us, with them. As they launch, they will continue to draw on the internal resources we passed on to them, secure in the knowledge that they were well loved.
Principal and Founder
Children’s Garden School