I recently returned from the family vacation of a lifetime to Europe with my two daughters, ages 19 and 22. One is a recent college grad and the other, completing her freshman year. We had talked about this celebration trip several times — their high school graduation, turning 18 and 21 and various spring breaks but this was the perfect timing as the recent college grad unsure about her next steps needed inspiration and the rising sophomore was ready to show me what she learned being on her own.
I once read, raise your children to be someone you want to hang out with when they are adults. I wasn’t sure the significance of that until after spending two weeks together with only two disagreements, mostly brought on by pure exhaustion and resolved rather quickly. This was the ultimate test of togetherness. This new chapter of their lives and mine gets to be one of fun, joy and celebration for the adventures ahead because they don’t need me to parent them any longer. They still need and ask for my support, acceptance and unconditional love but they don’t necessarily need my advice.
Meeting so many young people in Europe brought us closer to the awareness of the stress that our children endure almost from birth. Getting them into the best preschool, half day or full day kindergarten, public or private school, and the intense focus on academics because they have to get into a “good” college if they want to get a “good” job someday. When that someday arrives for your college graduate, the pressure only intensifies to land the job they have been preparing and studying for since age 4.
Young people outside of the USA don’t experience these pressures as much. The late teens and early 20s are for exploration of who they want to be in the world. The conversations were more about the celebration of their accomplishments, seeing the world while they had a chance, sharing transitions with their peers and broadening their perspective of what options are available to them. It’s a time to identify personal values — sometimes and often separate from those of their parents. Parents are concerned their children will not be able to support themselves. Young adults have that same fear but are looking for the answers via their newfound independence and self-discovery rather than on job search sites and career centers.
Your children are unique and highly qualified individuals who despite all of your best efforts and preaching and teaching, must discover for themselves who they are.
The beauty of this time of life is you get to sit back and watch them flourish into the human beings you worked so hard at raising and nurturing. You now have to let them try and make it on their own which means lots of trial and error and mistakes and decisions that may not be the exact path you want them to take. There are many paths and life is about the journey, not the destination.
The memories of our sightseeing will perhaps last a lifetime. The takeaways from the experience and personal growth are only just beginning. The knowing there is so much more out there is priceless.
Make it your honor to be there for your children and to recognize it’s their journey.