We never told our kids they had to go to college. We always made it clear that college should be purposeful; it’s an investment in your future that should not be taken lightly. So, when my daughter, now 19, said she didn’t want to go, we weren’t really surprised. She had already expressed how unsure she was about what to do after high school.
As a homeschool family, our goal, even though it wasn’t clear when we started, was to create lifelong learners. We didn’t want our kids to ever think learning happened in a box. Learning doesn’t stop at 3pm or at the end of each May. We are always learning. More importantly, there is always something to learn.
My Rookie Move
My son had taken a year off and then decided to go to college. I figured my daughter would do the same. Rookie move on my part. If there is one thing that my children have taught me, it is how different they are. How two parents can make six human beings who look similar but are so different is baffling.
We have been wracking our brains trying to help her take a step in some direction. In all transparency, we were starting to get really concerned about her. What we saw was a person who seemed stuck. She was feeling limited by her own indecision. There is nothing worse than feeling powerless to help your own child. We made suggestions. I tried to remind her of her strengths and talents. Her father had long talks with her. Nothing seemed to help.
She was working but it wasn’t really something she loved. Getting a second job only helped a little. She felt better about seeing her savings grow but beyond that it still wasn’t giving her purpose. She wasn’t passionate about what she was doing. At the end of the day, it was just a job.
Avoid the Comparison Trap
There have been several times when I wanted to put my foot down and force her to go to college. “That’s it; we are going right over and getting registered today!” I have said a thousand times in my mind. I didn’t but I wanted to, so badly. I felt like we were being tested. Didn’t we say they didn’t have to go if they didn’t know why they were going? Ugh!
This time of year, it is hard to not play the dangerous game of comparison. As friends are planning their kid’s send off to some great university, the decision we made to let our children choose, can feel all wrong. Facebook only displays the happy moments.
The Crossover into “Baby” Adulthood
We are in the thick of this transition phase. Right now, I have three children in this place. They are crossing over from child to adult. I like to call them Baby adults. I think this is perfectly accurate because when you look at the science, the cerebral cortex does not fully develop until age 25. So, what does that mean? Even though they are legally adults, they have a long way to go in maturity, insight, wisdom. They are trying to figure out what to do after high school.
In our society seems to be pushing our children to grow up faster and faster. To have their lives planned and figured out by 18 seems to be the goal. But the science is showing us that this race is more of a marathon than a sprint. How many times have we heard that? People say it because it’s true.
Let Them Go While Staying Close By
Looking at my oldest, I see his maturation in real time. I hear his conversations changing. I see the way he carries himself differently. He just turned 22 and is becoming a man. There is a big difference between him at 18 and now.
Because of him, I am able to relax (a little) with my other baby adults. My job right now is to be a support as they figure this stuff out, exactly what to do after high school. I don’t need to push the life I want for them. What I need to do is let them discover for themselves the life they want. I have to trust what we taught them. Those places where we see gaps in our parenting is the perfect time to talk about topics that may not have come up when they were younger. For my daughter, it means we allow her to be unsure. Why should she know all the answers? We don’t know all the answers and we are way ahead of her in the life game.
Years ago, someone told me how much my children were going to need me even more when they got older. I was in the throes of sleepless nights and poopy diapers and couldn’t see it. I see it now. More than ever, they need our consistent presence.
Our children need us to be steadfast and dependable because their brains aren’t there yet. When my son calls, I try my best to answer. He now calls us for advice about everything. My daughter is not a big talker, but we try our best to not let that be a reason we don’t talk and make our presence known. When she walks into my room and flops on my bed at night not many words are spoken but I understand why she is there. She’s just “checking.”
Cheer Them On
The balance of keeping your distance but staying close can be tricky. I liken it to those first baby steps. You sometimes had to just let them go. They can’t always hold your finger. But when they turn around, there you are cheering them on. If they stumble, you are there to let them know it’s ok and encourage them to try it again.
It’s important that we help our children become the people they were meant to be. That is our responsibility. It’s not to force them down a path. College is a path. It can be an important path, but it’s not the only one.
We have to know that every child is different. Some know exactly what they want to do. There are other kids who have a general idea. And still others who don’t have a clue. Just like all babies walk at different stages, our baby adults are similar. Some are up and running at nine months. Some don’t get the hang of it until after their first birthday. But they all get there.
This year my daughter has an opportunity that will take her out of state for a year. She would not have been offered the chance had she been in college. She is excited. It will allow her to get some work experience, earn some money, and see places outside of Texas. I believe life experiences are important teachers. Traveling, jobs, hobbies can all help give our children perspective to make the big decision of “What will I be when I grow up?” And let’s face it. Some of us still don’t know.
Congratulations to all the mommas sending off your college freshmen this fall. And to those of you wondering how you can help your child take the next step, just keep encouraging them and looking for opportunities for them to try things. For now, enjoy the extra time because the next step is coming. It always does.