The launch. Sending our precious kids off – whether to college or the military, a new job, or any other adventure, is a huge milestone in our parenting journey. Just the mention of the launch can put a lump in a mom’s throat and a knot in her stomach, no matter how old her kids are. Funny how our children can drive us crazy all day long, but the simple mention of them ever leaving us can turn us into a puddle of emotions in a heartbeat.
And really: the whole idea of launching our kids just feels wrong on so many levels. We gave these kids life. For years, we were their life. They needed us, and let’s be honest; we got a lot out of being needed. The umbilical cord may have been cut, but the heart-strings never were. It just feels right when they’re all gathered around us.
In a rational moment, of course, we know that our kids were made to grow up and…go. “Spread their wings”, and “leave the nest” and all of that. When Josiah was just a baby, I remember an older lady telling me that my greatest job was to raise him to NOT need me anymore. Though I had the brief urge to smack her, I sensed that I needed to tuck those words away. So I did.
And now my time has come. Dave and I are just returning from a week in California where we dropped Josiah, our firstborn, off at college….thousands of miles away from home, across a very big ocean.
And though the emotions welled up more than once in the days leading up to the drop-off, here’s the good news: We had a beautiful launch! It was positive and healthy and I’m not lying when I say, it was a ton of fun. He was so happy, and we were so happy for him. Oh he’ll be missed plenty, but it all felt so completely right. Now, granted, we have a couple of things working in our favor: For one, we have 3 more boys still at home, to keep us busy and occupied. (the empty nest will be another story, and surely, another post… 🙂 ) Also, we sent Josiah to Westmont, a small Christian college that we have great confidence in.
But honestly, I think if Josiah were in a larger school in a different setting altogether, I still would feel at peace. Because the security I feel is not so much about the particular school or setting, but really all about the person my son is, and the relationship we have.
Now I’m not saying we’ve done everything right, and trust me — I’m always working on improving in my parenting with those left at home. But since this launch has gone pretty darned well, and since I know many of you are following just behind me us this journey, I have reflected on what I think were the key ingredients that got us to this point…the point of a healthy launch. And these are my best pieces of advice:
7 Things to do now, for a successful launch later
- Spend plenty of quality time with your children while they grow up!
We were ready to let Josiah go because we had spent so much quality time with him throughout his years. We’ve done a lot of life together, and we didn’t launch him with regrets, or wondering if we had missed out on anything. (there is no denying homeschooling helps with this one.) Yes, life is busy, but these years fly by, so make the time to get to know your children while they’re around. Stop what you’re doing and talk to them. Have meals together. Be interested in what interests them…stay up late…laugh at their jokes. Be there when they need someone. You’ll never regret that time.
- Allow them to develop increasing independence.
Kids can’t become independent over night; it happens over time. Over the last two years, Josiah has become mostly independent. At some point, when he continued to ask my permission for almost everything he did, (he’s super respectful that way) I said “You can quit asking me now. I trust your judgement!” He rose up to that independence and handled it responsibly.
- Teach them life skills early.
As they gain independence, be sure your kids are learning practical life skills. For the past couple of years, I have given Josiah the responsibility of making his own doctor appointments, servicing his car, and managing his own time and money. He has done his own laundry (sometimes) and learned to cook some basic meals (scrambled eggs, anyone?) I know I am launching a son who will wash his sheets occasionally, manage his time well, and seek help from a teacher or counselor if needed. (I’m sure he’ll discover things we’ve missed, but we’ve taught him Youtube for those things.) If you are a helicopter parent or get your self-worth from doing every….little…thing for your son or daughter, I encourage you to back off a little during their high school years. Let them wrestle with problems…Try and fail…Deal with conflict, and figure things out. They’ll learn and grow, and it will be good for both of you come launch time!
- Help them develop a secure identity.
kids who are anchored in a secure identity will have the best chance at a successful launch. If you’ve been around a while, you know we talk a lot about identity in our home. At some point most children (and non-children, I should add 😉 ) struggle with identity, basing their self worth on their performance (grades, sports, or other) or popularity (hello peers, and social media.) We can make a huge difference by helping our kids develop an identity based on something unchanging. For our family, that is God’s love and plan for their life. Josiah went to college knowing WHO he is, and WHOSE he is. This gives me tons of peace.
- Make sure they are ready. (and consider a gap year.)
In my opinion, gap years are like homeschooling: They’re not for everyone, but I think they’re a good idea for a lot of people. Oftentimes kids graduate from high school and feel pressure to dive right into the next thing. Some kids are ready, but many…are not. Then we wonder why they struggle to adjust when they face that next thing. Josiah chose a gap year for a number of reasons: He had skipped a grade somewhere along the way, so graduated at 17, and we thought he could use an extra year before college. Also, he wasn’t sure where he wanted to go to college or what he wanted to study. During his gap year Josiah explored college options and he also worked hard doing dishes and bussing tables and saved a lot of money. He retook standardized tests and sought out more scholarships. This one extra year between high school and college was without a doubt life changing for Josiah. A gap year might give your child a chance to consider if college is right for them, or if they would benefit more from an apprenticeship or trade school. Depending on your child’s personality (and state of mind) a gap year can be the greatest thing ever…or a total disaster. (I recommend having a solid plan for the year, in advance.) So think it through well, but I do think gap years are worthy of some consideration.
- Get them connected to community.
Most post-high school paths will include living, learning, or working in a community environment. (and often all three!) Kids will adjust to this best if they have grown up connected to, and involved in, community. Josiah is a quieter kid by nature, (very shy a few years ago!) but we encouraged him to get plugged into our local community as he grew up. He established great friendships with people of all ages, helped out in youth ministry, and met with a couple different mentors regularly. Knowing that my son is comfortable reaching out to people and being involved in community wherever he is brings me a ton of security.
- For us Moms: Make sure you have a life of your own!
When it comes to the launch, Moms, it will really help if you have some happy things to focus on…outside of parenting. After saying goodbye to Josiah, Dave and I went right into discussing book covers and blog posts (bless my husband.) We talked about house projects and the possibility of getting another dog. (makes sense, right?) I made sure to bring a great book on the airplane, and poured over magazines for recipe inspiration. Whether you have a job you love, a hobby (new or old) to dive into, or you find a way to serve others in need (which is good for us on so many levels) you’ll benefit from having positive things to focus on. Set yourself up by taking the time to find some interests and passions while your kids are growing up. You need them. And your kids need to know you have them, too. 😉
There is more I could say on this topic, and one day I’d love to share some tips on what to do (and not do) during and after the launch (I’m still in the middle of this part!) but I hope a few of these tips will be helpful!
If you’ve had a successful launch, or perhaps learned some lessons from a less-than-stellar one 😉 , please do share in comments! Also any questions, thoughts or ideas…I always love hearing from you!
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With much Aloha,