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                            (Part  Four of Four: Completing the Journey!) 

 
A period of time has passed since Grant and Grace, our geese couple, began their travels on the Parenting Highway. I clearly recall my first view of Grace sitting on her nest of seven eggs, while Grant kept a keen vigil nearby to make certain that I kept my distance. I remember the seven goslings as they walked (or wobbled) around their “lake home” in search of food and exercise. Just the sight of them brought smiles to my face.
 
 
Equipped and encouraged by their parents, the seven “kids” grew toward maturity and reached a point in time when they were promoted or launched into geese adulthood. I’ve often wondered what actually occurred in that launch process, and I’ve pondered the current whereabouts of the seven “kids.” Without a doubt I’ll look up during the next few weeks to watch groups of geese flying in their V-formation and wonder, “Could that group include the Grant-and-Grace family?” One thing’s for sure:  Grant and Grace have completed their parenting journey. Hopefully, the promotion into adulthood was a safe and successful launch for all seven goslings.
 
 
In our effort to become a “PRO-Parent,” that is, the best parent we can be, we must take seriously a fourth role of parenthood:  “the promoter parent.”  Producing children begins the journey, protecting children safeguards the journey, providing for children equips the journey, and promoting children completes the journey. In a large sense the parents promote the child’s development on a daily basis from birth to adulthood.  More specifically, the time comes when the parents are responsible for “promoting” the child into adulthood. Initially, the child’s birth into the world resulted from a “final push” by the mother; ultimately, the child’s launch into adulthood results from a “final push” by the parents. The parenting journey completed, the young adult embarks on his own travels along his Highway of Life. Hopefully, he experiences a safe launch and is adequately prepared for the adventures and opportunities to be encountered in the journey ahead.
  
 
Parenting—a continuing promotion . . .
 

Clearly, the goal of responsible parenthood is the effective launch of our children into full adulthood. However, the work of promotion begins at the birth of the child. On a continuing basis the parents perform actions and provide activities that serve to promote the child’s growth and development. In essence, the parents are models, mentors, teachers, coaches, cheerleaders, and policemen. As such, they promote the development of personal values and survival skills that are essential to the child’s success in life. Parents know the joy of looking at the child’s final report card for the school year and seeing that all-important statement, “Promoted to the next grade.” The kids are promoted year by year both at school and at home until the time comes for their final “promotion”—the launch into adulthood. After the launch occurs it is hoped that the young adult will be able to acknowledge, “My parents were my best promoters!”
 
 

I was privileged to live and work for about twenty years in Huntsville, Alabama, the location of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. During my time there I developed friendships with many men and women who were intricately involved in the development and implementation of the shuttle space program. I was always fascinated and amazed at the effort, time, and money that were expended for a single launch into space. On one occasion I interviewed a NASA scientist about the specific aspects of the launch process. He provided an overview about the preparation work in the hangar, the transition of the shuttle to the launch pad, and the countdown for final launch. With the Launch Commit Criteria in progress and all tests satisfied, the engines are fired, the umbilicals are removed from the craft, and power is transferred from ground power to internal vehicle power. The phrase “We have lift-off” represented the completion of a great deal of concerted effort by many people who worked together to “promote the program.” Every successful launch into space was a huge victory—and an occasion for celebration. At times the launch sequence ran smoothly without incident; at other times the launch had to be delayed for repairs or updates.  At other times the shuttle might be taken back into the hangar for more serious work needed to insure a safe launch. Tragically, a launch attempt could result in a disastrous loss of life, as with the Challenger in 1986 when lift-off was followed seventy-three seconds later by an explosion that claimed the lives of all seven crew members.   During my years in Huntsville I often thought about the shuttle launch experience as an interesting illustration for the process we go through to launch our children into adulthood. Essentially, the home is life’s launch pad from which the young adult begins his personal journey down the Highway of Life.  
 
 
A successful launch requires the ability to fly, whether we’re thinking about a manned aircraft like the shuttle or a young adult who is ready to leave the home-based launch pad. However, before the young adult can “fly into adulthood” he must have “wings with which to fly.” The effective parent strives to promote two important ingredients:  roots and wings. I’ve long valued the description of parenting given by Hodding Carter, a well-known writer of the last century, as he adapted the ideas of the nineteenth century minister and social reformer, Henry Ward Beecher. Carter‘s description states, “There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these is roots, the other is wings.” Parents promote “roots” when, among other things, they equip the child with basic survival skills and when they encourage the development of personal values within the child. These skills and values will enable the child to develop his “wings” with which he will “fly into adulthood.” Perhaps this positive parental influence could be another meaning for “You are the wind beneath my wings” about which Bette Midler sang in her popular hit, “Wind Beneath my Wings.”
 
 
In the prior article entitled, “Providing for our Children,” I discussed the importance of survival skills and described the Survival Skills Checklist that I constructed as a helpful tool for launch preparation. The checklist contains both an assessment of current specific skills in ten different areas as well as various worksheets for designing a Plan of Action for the growth of certain skills that merit additional work. Preferably, parents will begin using the checklist when the child is about age twelve to allow for several years of structured growth and development. Alternatively, the checklist can be used when the child has reached chronological adulthood to assess the child’s overall readiness for a final launch from the family home.
 
 
(Note: If you would like to examine the Survival Skills Checklist, you will find a link provided at the end of this article.) 
 
 
 
Parenting—a concluding promotion . . .    
 

All of the energy and effort expended during the childrearing years points toward a conclusion—that ultimate promotion into adulthood. That transition should be an occasion of celebration, although most parents experience mixed feelings of joy, sadness, and worry. They are joyful that the child is ready for launch, but they may feel sadness in the loss of their parental role, and perhaps some worry about the child’s life after launch. The launch process works smoothly and efficiently for many families, but for other parents their young adult’s launch attempt looks more like a major collision than a clean exit from the parents’ Highway of Life.
 
The decision to grin or grieve at launch time is largely dependent upon the type of launch being experienced. In my tenure as a Marriage and Family Therapist I’ve seen many launch attempts that ranged from a “success” to a “disaster.” In pondering these launches I have concluded that there are four basic types of launch, each of which may have unique variations. Even a brief exploration of these launch types reveals some underlying challenges and the stress that is often generated for the entire family.
 
 
 
                                                                                     FOUR TYPES OF LAUNCHES
 

The Resistant Launch . . .  
 

Many parents have entered into therapy because of one major frustration:  they have tried to launch their grown child into adulthood but the child is resistant. Every effort was met with resistance in that the child just did not want to leave the “family nest.” Dropping hints failed; asking questions went nowhere, yelling led to a shouting match. The result—huge stress for the parents! It seems as if the kid just doesn’t get it. The parents declare, “It’s launch time” and the child responds, “Great, lunch time—I’m really hungry.” The word “launch” is not in his vocabulary, but the word “lunch” is at the top of his recognition list and receives an instant response!
 
 
When resistance becomes a major issue the parents need to consider possible reasons for the resistance. If the young adult knows that he is unequipped and unprepared for adulthood, his fear may cause him to resist the launch. If preparation is the key issue, he and his parents can work together to design a plan of action that will provide at least the basic skills needed. The plan should be very specific and time-oriented, and the young adult is to be held accountable for his efforts. This “back in the hangar” period should be limited in duration because the child should have learned the basics during the preceding years. However, if motivation is the key issue in that the child is basically lazy and irresponsible, then the parents must take a much stronger role in “pushing the kid out of the nest.” The parents can stop paying for the young adult’s clothing, entertainment, and transportation. They can even assess a room-and-board fee for each month the child continues to live at home. A failure to pay the fee results in eviction, which is what would happen in the “real world” if the child were to be renting an apartment.  The child could negotiate with the parents in terms of “bartering,” that is, the child would complete various chores to offset a portion of the room-and-board fee. If the child refuses to do the work in a timely and responsible manner, the agreement is breached and eviction results. Interestingly, I’ve seen parents who complained that their grown child would not move out but who, at the same time, would continue to provide the child with the same standard of living he had always enjoyed. Clearly, there is no motivation for the child to launch. The “home pad” is too comfortable and easy, so why leave it? If being “invited out” has not worked, parents of resistant kids may have to implement a “push out” procedure. Although it is difficult, loving parents may have to “toughen up” and provide that “final push” whether the child welcomes it or not. The main message is, “It’s promotion time.” In other words, it’s time for change—and that change means a launch!

The Rebellious Launch . . .
 
The second launch type involves a young adult who still lives at home and is oppositional and rebellious. Basically, he is selfish and expects his parents to fulfill his every want while he makes little or no attempt to follow their rules or to cooperate with them. He wants to receive all of the benefits and freedoms of adulthood but is unwilling to earn his way. Perhaps this child was the “resistant launch” person whose behavioral pattern escalated into the “rebellious launch” type. The child may even be an older teenager who refuses to go to high school, preferring to “drop out” and live at home. Any expectation made of the child for responsible behavior is met with defiant anger, and ugly conflicts become commonplace. During one of these major explosions the young adult will assert his defiance by moving out. This move, even though made in a fit of anger, constitutes the launch. Because the launch was done impulsively and little preparation was completed, the person’s life after launch is likely to be a mess. However, the launch did occur and the child is finally out of the “nest.”
 
 
 
The Revolving Launch . . .
 
The third launch type is what I call the “revolving launch” or the “return launch.” The primary indicator is simple:  the kid keeps coming back! He moves out on his own for a short time, uses up his personal resources, and with empty hands returns to the “home launch pad.” The parents allow the child to “move home” and thereby encourage the “revolving launch” cycle. To be clear, I’m not referring to rare situations where a grown child legitimately needs a place to live for a few months due to unanticipated hardships. Rather, I’m referring to the adult who refuses to accept responsibility and is unwilling to work hard to earn his own way. His irresponsible and lazy lifestyle is unfortunately encouraged by parents who are unwilling to say “Return refused.” The parents may be afraid that their son won’t like them if they refuse, and so they “give in” to maintain his favor.  Perhaps they allow the child to manipulate them by his threats to “cut them off” or to “commit suicide” or by some similar manipulative behavior. Or, the parents could be as unhealthy as the son is in that they have some type of “need” that keeps them trapped or stuck in the revolving door syndrome. Other parents allow the “return launch” because of fear that their child will suffer too much if forced to live on his own. But what’s wrong with a little suffering? If an irresponsible young adult is perfectly capable of suffering for his own mistakes, why should parents take upon themselves unnecessary and unwarranted suffering? In the interest of long-term survival a few nights spent in a homeless shelter or a few hunger pains could be a good eye-opener and a great motivator toward initiative and responsibility.
 
 
The revolving launch struggle is usually resolved by the parents’ decision that “enough is enough.” They allow the child to return home for normal visits, but they consistently and assertively refuse the child’s full-time return to the family home. In implementing that decision they force the child to face his dilemma of “growing up” or of suffering the natural consequences that follow irresponsibility and laziness. 
 
 
The Releasing Launch . . .
 
The best launch is the fourth type: the “releasing launch” characterized by mutual release. The parents release their hold on the child and the young adult releases his dependence upon his parents. In this “full” launch many years of continuing promotion culminate in a state of readiness. After eighteen or more years in the “family hangar” where the preparation for adulthood was completed, the young adult is taken out to the “home launch pad” from which, with the full blessing of the parents, the young adult moves out into a setting in which he is self-supporting, autonomous, and independent. The successful launch occurs because he has worked hard to develop both the survival skills and the personal values that are essential to his daily well-being. As a young adult traveling on his own Highway of Life he maintains healthy contact with his family of origin, but his primary focus is upon his efforts to establish and maintain the basics needed for his personal survival. His life after launch is certainly not problem-free, but he uses his skills and resources wisely to prevent major “crash and burn” events during his life travels.
  
A positive variation of the “releasing launch” is what I call the “partial launch.” This variation occurs most often when the parents take their young adult to a college campus and leave him there for final launch preparations. The scenario presents a two-step launch sequence in which the move to college is the first step and the transition at the completion of college constitutes the second step. This approach is usually very workable and achieves a successful launch.

 
 
 
THE LAUNCH PLAN
 

Without exception, parents need to formulate a launch plan for each of their children. Parents would do well to discuss their beliefs and preferences about the launch process before they actually start the parenting journey. Otherwise, they may discover some twenty years later that they differ sharply on key launch issues. Through their discussions they will try to “get on the same page” and thus be able to generate a mutually acceptable launch sequence. The plan needs to be realistic, practical, and time-oriented. Preferably, the plan is developed as a joint action of the parents and the child in question. Joint-participation should increase the child’s willingness to accept and follow the plan. Without a clear plan the parents are “winging it” and are more likely to end up with a launch disaster.
 
 
Formulating a launch plan . . .
 

The initial launch plan needs to be formulated before the husband and wife actually become parents. Obviously, at that point the plan would be very general in nature, but it would include the husband’s and wife’s basic beliefs and preferences about the ultimate launch process. The plan becomes increasingly specific as the child approaches adulthood. In terms of timing I would recommend to parents that they finalize the launch plan with their child during the summer prior to his final year of high school. Information about parental expectations and available resources is shared and clarified so that the child has a clearer picture of what will occur during the next one-to-five years. With that information the child will understand how his behavior and performance during his last school year will affect his standard of living and the potentials for continuing education via college or trade schools. The plan can be modified a few months later to reflect final decisions about going to college, working full-time, or joining the military. The parents need to schedule periodic checkpoints at which time the parents and the child discuss the current plan for updates and modifications. The usage of the Survival Skills Checklist can be included in these checkpoint discussions. The plan could include the provision of an amount of money to be used as a “launch fund” or “grubstake.” The money may go directly toward the payment of a specific item (such as rent or insurance), or the assistance can be given for general usage. The key is to make the monetary assistance limited both in amount and in duration. One approach involves the provision of financial help over a six or twelve month period with the amount decreasing each month. If personal loans are provided, the parents should have the young adult sign a written contract specifying the amount, the due date, and any expectation attached to the use of the money. Further, the plan clarifies the specific items that the young adult will be allowed to take with him at launch time, such as a car, electronic equipment, or furniture. Any assistance provided should encourage and motivate the young adult to become self-supporting and autonomous as soon as possible.
 
 
 Admittedly, no launch plan will work perfectly, but parents with a clear plan are miles ahead of those parents who choose to travel without a plan or roadmap. Parents know that the Highway of Adulthood can be a hard road to travel. The journey is better when the traveler is following a good roadmap.
 
 
Following launch rules . . .
 

In addition to the formulation of a workable launch plan for the child the parents need to follow basic “rules of the road” (or guidelines) that will help them to stay “on track” or focused on the long-range destination. The specific “rules” developed by the parents emerge from their beliefs and preferences about the promotion or launch process. Out of a combination of personal and professional experience I would suggest several “rules” that are worthy of your consideration and adoption.
 
 
“Rules of the road” #1: “As the parents we understand and believe that it is in the best interest of our children that they be launched into adulthood. Therefore, we will not allow our selfish or self-serving desires to hinder or prevent that launch from occurring.” 
 
 
“Rules of the road” #2:  “As the parents we will maintain power and control until our child is fully launched into adulthood.”
 
 
“Rules of the road” #3: “As the parents we refuse to allow our child through verbal threats, guilt-tripping, anger, or other negative behavior to manipulate us into ignoring our basic launch plan.”
 
 
“Rules of the road” #4: “As the parents we reserve the right to involve external resources (such as professional therapists or law enforcement personnel) to assist us in the launch or removal of a resistant, rebellious child from our household. We will not allow such a child to disrupt or destroy our marriage or the remainder of our family unit.”
  
 
“Rules of the road” #5: “As the parents we will modify our role following launch in that we will relate to our grown child on an adult level, meaning that we will no longer be personally or financially responsible for the child. We will provide appropriate encouragement and emotional support, but we will expect the child to be self-responsible, autonomous, and fully capable of facing the natural consequences of his decisions.” 

Concluding thoughts . . .
 
For most of us parenthood is an eighteen to twenty-five year journey along a highway that is filled with a variety of exciting, joyous, and satisfying experiences. There are times, however, when our travels become stressful and strained because of unexpected breakdowns and unpredicted obstacles. Year by year we move steadily closer to our destination:  the promotion of our child into adulthood. That promotion completes our parenting journey and ushers us into a new kind of relationship with our grown children. Hopefully, that new relationship will be healthy and happy as we watch our adult children grow and mature. Our family will expand if they choose to marry and have their own children, an event that will make us grandparents and that will bring to us a new role to experience with its own joys and challenges.
 
 
In this series about becoming a “PRO-Parent” we’ve explored four key roles:  producer, protector, provider, and promoter. When all four roles have been fulfilled to a satisfactory degree, the parents and the child will celebrate a safe and successful launch into adulthood.   I hope that the information contained in these brief articles will provide both practical help and personal encouragement to you as you travel the Parenting Highway.

Best wishes for a safe journey and a successful launch! And I wish you the best in all of your relationship journeys.

          
                                                                                                           
 

 
 
 
Note: To examine a PDF version of the Survival Skills Checklist described in this article please click the image to the right or click here.








 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 




VIDEO:  To see a short television interview in which Dr. Bill Baker explores the process of launching children into adulthood, click the image to the right or just click here.
 
 
 
 
 
 






Other Resources: If you are looking for additional information about parenthood, check out the list of helpful books and relevant websites on the Parenting category under Resources (from the Home Page), or just click here.
 



(If you would like to listen to an audio version of this blog, click the Play button below.)
 
 
 
 
         
                          (Blog #406)
 
 
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