What do you think young people are most unprepared for when they move out of their parents’ houses? What kind of stuff would we need to learn in school to really prepare us for life?
First of all, the Elderly Aunt assumes that any parents who read this advice really do want their children to leave home and fly on their own — not just move next door or build a cabin on the back forty of the family farm.
That established, it might surprise you to learn, dear reader, that the Elderly Aunt is also an elderly mother, and so the first thing she did to address your question was to ask her own offspring how she might have better prepared them to leave home.
In truth, the Elderly Aunt expected a looooooong conversation—a verbal mano-o-mano spin-off on Elizabeth Barret Browning’s famous Portuguese Sonnet #43—How could you have done better by me, Mom? Let me count the ways?
But no. The Elderly Aunt’s offspring couldn’t think of a single thing she —or anyone else—could have said or done to prepare them for adulthood that would have sunk in after about the age of fourteen. Apparently, the Elderly Aunt’s vast wisdom rained down upon her offspring as an irrelevant bunch of clichéd old codger-isms. The whole purpose of leaving home,her now-grown children advise her,is to figure things out for yourself, so you can grow up and tell stuff to somebody else who won’t want to hear what you’re saying.
So much for teaching our children well, at least according to the Elderly Aunt’s offspring who, admittedly, are as independent-minded and full of yee-hawas she is.
Still seeking guidance, the Elderly Aunt next consulted a friend who is invariably practical. This friend suggested that teenagers should begin doing their own laundry as soon as possible and also be made to understand that their parents will not accept late-night, post-partying calls from jail. The Elderly Aunt interpreted this to mean that if you want your children to leave home successfully, teach them the necessary skills to do it, and do notprotect them from the consequences of their own stupid choices.
So far, so good, but still to the Elderly Aunt’s way of thinking, not quite enough.
The Elderly Aunt feels strongly that parents should never give their children the impression that the way they do things is always the best way; that what they believe is inarguably the truth; that their view of the world is the only truly enlightened one. Instead, she suggests parents model the kind of adults they want their children to become — for instance, curious, open-minded, non-judgmental, willing to take well-considered risks, willing to face their own shortcoming and deal with them constructively.
The Elderly Aunts also suggests that parents not only encourage their children to leave home, but, at some point, to spend a year on their own in some an entirely new place—attend college out of state or work in a city that’s too far away for weekend visits. That way, they might be less likely to feel stuck in a bad situation simply because they’re scared to be on their own.
The last—and arguably the most important—of the Elderly Aunts suggestions to parents is to never forget that if you really want your children to fly on their own, you have to be willing to let them go. This means you—yes you, mom and dad!—have to take responsibility for filling the new and very big hole that their flight leaves in your own lives. And you must do this cheerfully!No passive/aggressive suggestions that it’s your children’s responsibility to deal with your own empty nest struggles.
As to how schools can better prepare students for adult life—that, dear reader, is a tough one.
The Elderly Aunt has great compassion and respect for today’s public school teachers. She cannot imagine a greater challenge than facing a classroom of electronically distracted students, who apparently think education means stuffing enough facts into their heads to pass the SOL’s while, at the same time, keeping the world of social media up-to-date on their every breath.
However, in the Elderly Aunt’s opinion, it is these same beleaguered teachers who have very real power to inspire raging curiosity in students, and curiosity is what drives young people to leave their comfortable childhood worlds and boldly getout there. If she were wearing a hat, the Elderly Aunt would sweep it off before all teachers who love learning and teach their subjects with passion. They ignite students’ curiosity about everything
Finally—as her editor tut-tuts bigly if she doesn’t provide an adequate closing—the Elderly Aunt suggests that no parent successfully prepares a child to fly away by trying to control the kind of person they become. A parent’s job is to lay the groundwork and love their children bunches, then to let them go, step back and keep the faith. As the Elderly Aunt’s surprisingly wise offspring point out, for our children to leave home successfully, we parents have to allow them room to figure it out on their own.
The Elderly Aunt offers her thoughtful responses to your questions about this wild ride we call life on every other Monday. To get the Elderly Aunt’s advice on an issue that’s been intriguing or bugging you, email your question to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “Elderly Aunt question.” (Just please don’t ask detailed financial questions). And as a general disclaimer—to quote the elves from The Lord of the Rings — “… advice is a dangerous gift, even given from the wise to the wise.”