July 26, 2017

Your teen is legal and graduated, now what?

There are numerous emotions that collide when launching your young adult into the wild world.

There are thousands of questions that go through your mind:

  1. Will they pay their bills?

  2. Will they do okay at college? Will they get home sick?

  3. What will they do with their free time?

  4. They're moving to a new place, will they make friends?

  5. Will they be able to feed themselves?

  6. What if they get sick?

The "launching phase" is when parents or caregivers are helping transition their adult children into the world and adjusting to a new home environment. Fifty years ago, it was common for people to move out of the home when they turned 18. In 2017, as a therapist, I am hearing a lot more, "I am taking a gap year and staying at home," or, "I don't want to go to college because it's too expensive." The launching phase has changed over time and now young adults are leaving the home between ages 25 and 28, rather than 18 and 23.

How to tell if your young adult is ready

While you may not feel 100 percent ready to send your teen out into the world, consider asking some survival questions and reviewing a checklist to help give you peace of mind. If your child is considering a gap year — a year to experience life outside the classroom before continuing education — make sure you have a plan and goals for the year.

Another great source when considering college, gap year, living at home/not living at home: Google and YouTube. There are great resources for teens on planning a gap year and weighing pros and cons, funding college, parent support when children leave the home. Do your research when making decisions and know you are not alone. A few internet resources to consider include:

How to tell if you're ready

The most difficult thing to remember as a parent is the undeniable anxiety that comes with the launching phase. There is a time to self-reflect whether we — as parents, guardians and caregivers — have given young adults the tools to survive on their own. But, there is also an even bigger question! How are we going to handle it if they DO NOT do well on their own? What are your own boundaries? So here are some checklists for yourself (pdf) to see if you have what you need to manage without your young adult. Realize that this can be a challenging transition. Parents spend 18-plus years taking on a role as a parent — a difficult role — where they are dedicating most to all of their time to teaching and caring for others. Now comes a time where parents have to redefine themselves through the other roles they play — an individual, a partner or lover, a friend, and a parent to an adult child.

It's OK to grieve

You might be surprised that both you and your child experience grief during this time, including the five stages, which are:

  • Denial

  • Anger

  • Sadness

  • Bargaining or pre-contemplation

  • Acceptance

Leaving home is a major transition for both parents and kids and experiencing grief and a sense of loss are normal. There is a grief/loss process associated with empty nesting or launching. Young adults who are launching are grieving their changing role as a "kid" and maybe grieving what is to come and becoming an adult. Often it means leaving behind what is familiar, maybe even moving to a new place and leaving your hometown behind.

As a parent/caregiver, grief may result from the loss of a role, of a child moving away, of expectations, and grieving the change itself. It is important to know that the stages of grief are not linear. You do not graduate from one, to the next, to the next and once complete you are rid of it forever. It is a cycle where you can start at any of them, move back and forth and around and back again. You may move between being angry and sad for months and then bargain if you are actually healed, then get sad again.

Every person starts at a different stage for different situations. One person may respond by denying they are sad or angry their child is leaving home and then it hits them six months down the road. Or, a child may be home sick and feeling sad. The important thing is to remember to be patient with yourself, and with each other as you all adjust. Launching is difficult for the young adult and the parent. It is important to communicate and stay connected. Remember that you're all different and doing the best you can during a major life transition.

LAUNCH: A young adults group for anxiety and depression

If you're a young adult — or someone you love is — and looking to build independent living social skills, individuality, identity and at the same time learn how to manage mood disorder symptoms long-term, LAUNCH is a group that may help. LAUNCH is for 18- to 30-year-olds with diagnosed mental health conditions who are moving on after high school, college or just starting their careers and beginning to live independently from their families. Learn more about LAUNCH by contacting behavioral health at (608) 233-3575.