My son won’t get a job. What do I do!?
When I was your age I had 3 jobs and I moved out of my parents house by the time I was 17!
What’s wrong with you?!
Families are really struggling these days to navigate the transition of adult children to their next phases, whether that’s going off to college, joining the workforce or simply moving out on their own and being able to handle “adulting”, as the kids call it these days.
Some of this is due to us as parents. Gasp!
Let’s face it, as parents we only have our own adolescence and young adulthood experiences to go on. Back when you had to have quarters in your pocket to make a phone call, when applications were completed on paper and handed in in-person, and things like rent and gas were a heck of a lot cheaper! Cue up the Mad Men and That 70’s Show flashback sequence! Because of this, we often hold our children to outdated expectations and standards.
Some of this falls on society. As our society has become more and more focused on digital convenience, younger generations have not had to develop some of the interpersonal communication skills that you or I had to hone. Some companies have to actually train their new young hires about using a phone, proper phone etiquette and in-person social norms.
What I have seen is a sort of perfect storm, where teens and young adults growing up in the digital era have grown more and more comfortable and accustomed to digital social interaction than in-person social interaction. In turn, if a particular teen or young adult struggles with significant social anxiety, isolation, confidence issues and has not had to develop some of the muscles that come with independence; then sometimes those first few attempts at launching can be kind of rough.
Did you know that Orville Wright’s first documented flight only lasted 12 seconds and he crashed after 120 feet of gliding? But, the Wright brothers didn’t give up after that first “failed” attempt at flight! Imagine where our technological era would be if they had?! And we didn’t give up when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor either! (see Animal House 1978).
All too often, what I see as a relationship and family counselor is that one partner or spouse is more permissive, doesn’t push expectations as much and is concerned about their child not being supported. Meanwhile, the other partner feels that the child is not being pushed enough, isn’t held to a standard of responsibilities and will wind up being unable to launch. Typically, they are both right and need to negotiate some sort of compromise where they each come to the middle for the benefit of their relationship and family.
Here are a few simple failure to launch interventions that can help create smoother transitions:
- Be flexible – Picture this being said with movie slow-mo enunciation for effect. Start from a place of flexibility and remember that the end goal is to raise your child and have them move out into the world without killing either them, your spouse or yourself.
Just blasting a rocket into space isn’t much of an accomplishment for NASA if the entire launch crew gets obliterated. 2 things to remember – 1. Every kid is different. They may have different skill sets, deficiencies, interests, trajectories, etc. 2. The song, Cats in The Cradle by Harry Chapin, can actually happen (give it a listen if you’re not familiar). Remember, they may be changing your diapers and wiping your mouth one day.
- Clear expectations – If you are in a 2-parent, co-parenting or blended family be sure to have clear communication with the other parents/adults to make sure everybody is on the same page (as much as possible – Check out Mom’s House, Dad’s House by Isolina Ricci for navigating 2-household parenting). Once that is established, be sure to clearly communicate those expectations to your child. Nobody likes short notices changes or hidden expectations and these can be especially bad for kids with anxiety or that are on the Autism Spectrum. Don’t wait till the day they graduate college or turn 18 to tell them you’re remodeling their bedroom into a Swedish sauna and changing the locks. On the flipside, you don’t have to freak out your kindergartner by telling them they’ll be homeless if they don’t have a job by age 19.
- Find balance – Find the balance between supporting your child in their pursuits, interests and activities and being the helicopter parent. You don’t have to save your child from every scrape and booboo along the way. I’m fond of the Dave Ramsey-ism, “you can’t medicate dysfunction”. Maybe their dad bailed on them or they grew up with grandma & grandpa because both mom and dad were irresponsible. It’s a crappy hand to be dealt; but, don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Doing that will guarantee that they are not equipped to handle life’s curveballs. The story goes that when eagles build a nest, they build it with thorns and brambles as the foundation and then line it with down and fluff. As the eaglets get older and mature, the parents remove the soft lining too promote them to leave the nest. As a parent, work to know when to apply natural consequences and when to step in and save them. This is not always easy because we have to keep our own stuff in check and it’s not a black and white, easy to define kind of line.
- Teach them – I love that old proverb, “Feed a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for life”. Another favorite is, “Train up a child in the way they should go and when they are old they’ll not depart from it”. But the common thread here is teaching and modeling to our children. If you don’t want to be phubbed (phone snubbed) by your kids, then don’t do it to them. If you’re going to smoke cigarettes or vape, expect them to be curious and try it at a young age. Same thing works for teaching them about how to talk to adults, making their bed, putting the toilet seat down and many other things.
- Seek accommodations (when necessary) – Some kids have legitimate need for accommodations like a 504 or IEP plan. Whether that’s because of Dyslexia, ADHD, a seizure disorder, a severe food allergy or something else. Make sure to connect with their educational system and get the proper testing, meetings and plan in place. But remember step 3…Balance! You should be working to slowly transfer independence and responsibility for managing their own lives as they age and mature. Also, know that those accommodations in their academic setting don’t just magically transfer to the public sector when they turn 18. You should be in communication with service providers in your area for independent living, life skills and other programs and accommodations well before the end of high school or their 18th birthday is anywhere in sight.
- Build them up – Our kids need our love and support! Home life should be as much of a safe haven as possible even from other family members. Don’t demean your kid or allow their other family members to belittle them because they are struggling in a particular area. Dysgraphia, self-injury, OCD and all the other things a child can struggle with aren’t something to laugh at.
Maybe their sibling is frustrated because they feel like that child gets preferential treatment. If so, I’d say some family counseling or education for the family about what the need is for the struggling child/family member may be in order.
- Be creative – This goes along with the teaching and modeling; but, if you show your kids your ability to think outside the box and willingness to use creative solutions to help them, then they will start to learn that as well. I have coached selectively mute clients to create FB videos to send to friends or relatives to help them get over the fear of talking. I’ve known families that have put their kids through Financial Peace University to help them understand concepts of money management, dads that have taken their sons on father-son dates to teach them how to tie a tie; have a good interview; or accept being broken up with.
- Teach them to set goals – I usually teach kids and families about S.M.A.R.T. goals; but, be prepared to adjust as needed. If you’re not familiar with them, SMART is an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-Based. This can teach your child to “aim small, miss small” and how to set reasonable expectations.
While there is no cookie-cutter answer for every child in transitioning them to the next phases, these steps can help take some of the stress and heartache out of the process. Try to remember that everybody typically has the same goal of raising a healthy, happy, independent child. It’s just that we so often have different ways of trying to come at that topic.