Going back to school has always been a time of anticipation and hopefulness in my family. When my kids were both in high school, it seemed like there was a constant hum in the house around this time. There was school supply-shopping, buying new clothes and shoes that had been outgrown, and chatter about what the new school year would bring. But this year, the tone is considerably different, and I feel blue about it.
Back to School Blues
Take my 16 year-old daughter, who is starting her junior year of high school. She is anxious about doing well on her standardized tests and AP classes so she can improve her chances of getting into a good college. After her first week of school, she asked me how she’s going to manage her academics with all her extracurriculars that colleges seem to want to see. This is the dreaded year that feels to her more like a mountain she has to climb than a journey she should enjoy, and I can’t shield her from it.
This is a photo of the stack of books she could choose from for her “free reading” in English that we had in the house, if only she would have time to read and enjoy them!
And then there’s my son who is a college sophomore. He is concerned whether he has chosen the right major, keeping his grades up, and what he should be doing next summer and beyond. He too feels pressure to succeed in college and the workplace. But he wants to figure this out on his own, and wants as little input from me as possible.
The Launching Phase
This is part of my children becoming independent and making their way into the world. I wrote about my need to let go of my children in a previous post, but I am writing about it again because it is so hard to do. My family therapist friend gave me the term for this and I googled the words “family life cycle — launching phase.” I learned that this is one of the most difficult transitions in a family’s life cycle. But why is it so difficult? What will happen to our relationship?
The literature says that entering into early adulthood means separating oneself emotionally, socially and financially from one’s parents. Parents also adjust and focus more on their relationship with each other and possibly career goals. It is a time that can be both positive and negative. Family members can support one another in this process, or can fail each other in painful ways.
One way that a young adults can navigate this process successfully is to become autonomous while maintaining connections with their family, despite what they think their family member’s shortcomings may be. The family members may or may not change, but that’s up to them and it shouldn’t matter to young adults as they try to separate. The young adults’ goal is to develop an adult relationship with their family and establish their role in it, regardless of what anyone else does.
I hope I can support my children in this process. My son is already fully in this phase, and my daughter is not far behind. As I struggle with this new family dynamic, I realize I must also change the way I view my relationship with my children. I must accept that my children are becoming adults and stay out of the way so they can find their own way. I like to think that we are launching into a new phase of our family life cycle, but that we will somehow all land safely. In the meantime, thank you for reading this post because writing about it makes me feel less blue.
How have you dealt with difficult family transitions like this? I would love to hear your advice. Leave a comment below.