The year 2008 will forever go down as one of the most significant in my life. I’ll never forget opening the email from Pepperdine University and seeing the first words on the page, “Congratulations!” Our son Michael had made it into his dream school after all—and Jeanne and I called him right in the middle of his high school English class to tell him so! (I’m pretty sure his elated response to, “Son, it looks like you’re heading to Malibu!” made the classroom walls shake!)
The summer passed quickly without us seeing much of Michael—no surprises there—and soon we were on our way to Southern California for the send-off. I held up well…that is, until the parents were asked to depart and the college gymnasium became a sea of embraces and good byes. When it was my turn, all I could get out was, “Thanks.” And then Michael was off.
I thought, That’s it? So quickly? I’ll never forget walking to the car in silence—Jeanne, daughter Lauren, and me—each of us processing what had just happened. Our once child and now young man was ready for the launch. And, though admittedly I shed a few tears, I couldn’t have been happier for him. Sure, we’d miss him dearly, but we’d prepared him and ourselves for this moment—and now Michael was on his way to living his dream.
“Launch time” is that moment we parents practically and emotionally hand over the reins and transition to a new stage. It hits us all differently, because we—and our children—are unique. How well we handle this stage will have a major bearing on the quality of our parent-child relationship for years to come.
When teens reach the launching stage (roughly the year before and few years after leaving home—usually 17-20), they embark on a new life-phase that is vitally important to their future. Because they’re one part child and one part adult and maturity levels vary, some transition better than others. How well their parents handle it plays a crucial role, too.
We parents lived through this stage ourselves in our own time and situations. That puts us in a special position to share and encourage with empathy, understanding, and excitement for their future. To ready our young adult children for “the launch,” we need to provide them with:
- Our unconditional love and understanding
- Our belief and encouragement
- Preparation and practical wisdom
- Our perspective of their uniqueness and value
- Full acceptance that it’s their life and dreams, not ours
- A healthy and enduring relationship based on trust
- An open door 24-7
- Realistic expectations
Our ability to successfully launch our teens to thrive in adulthood doesn’t just “happen” at the moment of send-off. It is the result of all of the hard work and preparation that has come before. Their self-confidence as independent adults will frame how well they transition to this next phase of life.
The fact is, we can’t control our children’s outcomes, but we can prepare them to make wise decisions for their long-term futures. Then we can release them to find their way, while always being there for sharing, caring, and advice as they seek it.
We let go, knowing we’ve given it our best.
It’s as simple and as difficult as that!