This article is reprinted by permission from NextAvenue.org.
“Oh, no! Mom! My flight’s delayed! I’ll miss my connection in Iceland!”
“Relax. Everything will be just fine.” I watched as my daughter Chloe scrambled around, shifting items from one bag to another, and checking the weight of her luggage.
Moving to Ireland for a semester abroad was a big jump for my 20-year-old, even though she had flown alone in the states and the year before had spent a month in Greece. Her experience with airports only heightened her anxiety.
It wasn’t long before she heard from the airline again, with a second flight change. She would now leave 30 minutes earlier, on a different airline, with a connection in London.
The stress of a major flight change along with a list of last-minute errands to run, a possible overweight suitcase, uncertainty about baggage fees, and the inability to pick her coveted window seat, all stuffed more worries into her already overweight bag of anxiety.
As much as I hoped everything would “be just fine” as I had promised, I was nervous for her. After all, she was still my baby girl, and I wanted everything to go smoothly. What could I do to help? I soon realized there was nothing I could do. Even if there was, would my help now aid her in the long run? Interfering could thwart a life lesson on how to deal with a monkey wrench thrown into your plans.
The secrets to an easier launch
We said our tearful goodbyes that day with no idea there was an enormous monkey wrench still to come. Having a global pandemic shorten her study abroad by two months was a calamity beyond the scope of our imaginations. As my husband and I walked through this letdown with her and welcomed her back home into what had been our empty nest, I reflected on the journey to adulthood with all of its joys and triumphs, as well as adversities and heartbreaks.
I think of other parents about to embark on this journey. Even though ceremonies have been canceled or reimagined during the COVID-19 crisis, students are still graduating and making plans to move on, hopefully in the fall, to the next stage of their lives. Whether it’s college, a gap year, or an immediate move into the workforce, these children are on their way to adulthood. How does the parental role change as they grow and find their wings?
As an empty-nester, I’ve nudged four children out of the nest and watched them flop and falter, but eventually fly. Along the way, I’ve learned some secrets to an easier launch.
Without further delay, let’s dive into the “flight lessons” that will allow our fledglings to take off, fly, and land smoothly on the journey to adulthood:
1. Facing fears builds confidence
As parents, our tendency is to rescue our children from life’s trepidations and unforeseen shadows. But just as we let them fall when they learned to ride their bike without training wheels, to encourage them to face their fears is the only way they’ll overcome them.
My 20-something kids look at me with wide-eyed fear when I say “just call the bank” (or office, or your school, etc.) “and ask them,” to solve an issue quickly.
“Mom. You know I hate making phone calls.” With email, texts and Snapchat, making a phone call and speaking to a real live person is comparable to riding a real live dinosaur. It instills real live fear in some young adults.
With a little coaxing, they punch in the number and state their need. They solve their problem in two minutes and are one step closer to becoming an adult.
2. Mistakes offer life lessons
We watched mistakes and mishaps unfold throughout their childhood years. From simple mistakes, like not following the Lego set instructions, to big ones, like not studying for that algebra final. Each error offered an opportunity for learning. Why, then, do we want to step in and prevent mistakes in young adulthood?
Yes, the stakes are higher now. Failures in college or on the job have financial implications. These massive flops can cause our kids to “fail to launch” out of the nest, and none of us want that. As young adults, relationship mistakes can lead to pain and heartache. We suffer when we see our young ones hurting.
But we all made mistakes and grew from them. We learned that being successful requires hard work; that some relationships aren’t meant to be and those that are, are worth waiting for. In the same way, our kids will learn and grow through their failures.
3. Advice is best received when asked for
As our children leave the nest, they yearn for independence. At the same time, they don’t yet know how the world operates. They may not understand implications of credit card debt, interest rates or how a mortgage works. When they ask us for information or advice, it’s perfectly fine to advise — to teach the wealth of knowledge we’ve learned over our lifetimes.
But unsolicited advice feels like meddling. Waiting instead for our children to tell us what they don’t understand builds trust. We should be ready to walk alongside them through life’s problems when they seek us out, but also be ready to watch from afar as they learn to cope on their own.
4. When parents aren’t around, others will step in
This is the beauty of the “flock.” My four children have flown to four different states, all of them at least a two-hour drive (or flight) away. They’ve studied abroad in Australia, Belize, Greece and now Ireland. I couldn’t be there for every need that arose. Nor should I be.
Starting from an early age, I had to coax my kids to say “hello” and be friendly, to approach others for help and then say “thank you.” As time went on, they learned that others are generally good and trustworthy. And they found the help they needed.
My daughter made it to Ireland that day, despite a third canceled flight. Along the way, she met three other young adults, all on their way to Dublin, and spent a several-hour layover at London’s Heathrow Airport with her new friends, exploring, laughing and enjoying the start of an excellent adventure.
5. Joys and sorrows are meant to be shared
Never could we have predicted our daughter’s study abroad experience would be interrupted by a global pandemic. Everything happened so fast. With the rug pulled out from under her, she was devastated. We all were. Graduating seniors and their parents have had to deal with similar loss and heartache.
During times of sadness and grief, parents are often the first ones a child turns to and in times of trouble, we can offer a listening ear or a shoulder to cry on. Our young adults’ life experiences are more limited than our own, and while we may have seen the other side of sadness, they are staring into a bleak cavern with no light on the other side. If we walk with them, cry with them and acknowledge the reality of their pain, the bonds we strengthen will last a lifetime.
When joy comes again — and it will — be ready to celebrate with them. Life’s successes, momentous occasions and even simple family times filled with love and laughter are reasons to rejoice.
While you’re celebrating, go ahead and revel in your new position as “flight instructor.” Your young ones will soon be soaring high and flying solo. Then you can say with confidence to your child and yourself, “everything will be just fine.”
Linda Hanstra is a school speech-language pathologist by day, writer/blogger by night. She lives in Michigan with her husband, and for the moment, her two college-age daughters. Linda writes to encourage empty-nesters on topics of family, faith, travel, biking, and more.
This article is reprinted by permission from NextAvenue.org, © 2020 Twin Cities Public Television, Inc. All rights reserved.