Launching and Leaving

“Things turn out best for people who make the best out of the way things turn out.” —Art Linkletter

May in Ohio this year has been a whirlwind for my family. Early in May my older daughter’s oldest graduated from college and is now in full-time look-for-work mode. My younger daughter’s twins will graduate from high school before the month ends. Two days after they flip their tassels they’ll head be in Texas to work at Lutherhill. They return home long enough to reclaim graduation gifts and other worldly possessions; then off they go to separate colleges.

Wedged in between these bookends of events were three birthdays, one wedding anniversary, and assorted other family events that got lost in the blur. Being retired, I’ve had the luxury of staying nearby all month for these events. Both my daughters reported for staff training at Lutherhill within hours after their high school graduation parties. Both returned home long enough to pack up their gear and leave again for college.

Both daughters have now launched young adults who have repeated this pattern. Graduate. Celebrate. Leave for a summer camp job. This pattern has me thinking about the pros and cons of various ways to cut apron strings and launch young people into the awe-filled world of adult responsibilities.

There are as many ways to do this as there are of parents and young people figuring it out. If any parent/young adult sets get through these transitions without tears, regrets, or second thoughts, I’ve yet to meet them.

I’ve seen parents who simply cannot let go.  They actually think it’s a good idea to call college staff on behalf of students who are beyond old enough to negotiate their own schedule conflicts and grade disputes. Commiserating about roommate problems, he-she relationships gone sour, and the stress of being chronically a day late and a dollar short is wonderful. Finally, the day has arrived when you can have an adult-to-adult relationship with this person you’ve known his or her entire life. It’s gratifying when a young person asks an older person about life lessons learned the hard way. However, when commiserating leads to charging in to handle situations young adults should be negotiating for themselves, the situation has evolved from empathizing to enabling.

Other parents take the launch-and-leave transition to the other extreme. They cut off all visible and invisible means of support. In today’s complex world, rare indeed is the eighteen year old who is capable of adequately managing all the moving parts of adult life.

Blessed are those parents who prepare for this launch pad by making plans for themselves about what they will do with the hours no longer needed to carpool, supervise, admonish, cheer on at various activities, and provide a bed and breakfast service for busy teens. Blessed are those parents who have taken time to teach about managing money, getting along with people who aren’t pleasant to be around, time management, and accepting the consequences of their own actions.

Blessed indeed are those young adults whose parents resist the urge to fight with teachers over their grades, letting them learn about the connection between effort and results. Blessed indeed are teens whose parents taught them how to cook a meal, do a load of laundry, shop for groceries, maintain a car, pay a bill, and get themselves up and out the door on time. They will arrive at the next chapter of life prepared to negotiate both community and academic life.

Launch season is hard on parents. It’s hard even being a generation removed. Did I do enough to prepare them to do enough to launch the next generation? Is this generation of young adults ready to be out there on their own? Do they have what it takes to enjoy their first experience away from home without enjoying it so much they neglect to study and learn something useful?

Graduation is a bittersweet experience. To complete formal studies in high school, trade school, college, grad school, or any other scenario is a major accomplishment. It is good to pause and really savor difficult as it might have been, it was familiar. The expectations were relatively clear. The connection between effort and results was fairly consistent. Now all that is history.

What comes next is often a very large question mark. Uncertainty tends to breed anxiety. Anxiety is frequently accompanied by stress. As I watch another generation navigate this family business of launching and leaving I experience profound pride in how well both generations are are doing this. The childhood years of the youngest generation went by so fast. Their futures are sill so unknown. Change is in the air all around. It is exciting. And daunting. It is so for both those who do the launching and those who do the leaving.

Art Linkletter spoke great wisdom when he said, “Things turn out best for people who make the best out of the way things turn out.” 

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