When my oldest son Anthony graduated from high school, he had no intention of going to college.
He worked for my husband as a pest control technician and he was proud of that. Anthony was the best pest control guy in the area right under my husband Stacey. Anthony was good at his job and he took it seriously to help his community. He made good money, too.
At 19 Anthony and his girlfriend welcomed their first child into the world. Both of them and their newborn lived at home with us. At the time, my husband and I felt the pressure to “encourage” them to move into their own place even though there was really no reason for them to do so. They had plenty of room for them and their baby, and we all loved having front row seats to watch her grow.
That baby was the light of our life.
This idea that multigenerational households are somehow a “failure to launch” was stuck in our heads, though. So, Anthony moved out. They moved to an apartment down the road from us and both Anthony and I cried. It all seemed unnatural and there was no real reason for it. They did live their own lives, both of them worked and the baby was surrounded with family members who loved her.
I could never really form my thoughts or opinions on why it felt so wrong for him to leave without being ready. It was not that he was not ready to move out because he was too immature or irresponsible. It was that there was significant trauma that we had all lived through as a family that needed to be worked out and processed for him to be able to handle life in a trauma-informed way.
Being trauma-informed means that there is an acknowledgement that trauma has happened and left a mark on the culture of a family. It is not about just one person or one event, but of a way of being for a family who has suffered something traumatic. For my children it was their father’s struggle with drug addiction and my issues with drinking and promiscuity. I did not mother my children when they were little. I worked and then went out with my friends. Being a trauma-informed family means acknowledging that and taking the time to mother my children now, regardless of their age.
I did not get the chance to do that with Anthony.
He died by suicide in March of 2017 which added to the trauma that my family has had to endure. In the aftermath of Anthony’s suicide I made a conscience choice to never allow this imaginary idea of how my children should be “launched” to influence my life.
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to any of this, either: My two older children have a harder time with the effects of the trauma and especially their brother’s suicide, while my youngest seems to be launching in the traditional way.
She was just accepted into college. She graduates in May and will be going off to college in the fall of 2021. It would all seem “normal” except for the fact that she is still from this family. So, I have to make sure that she has everything she needs emotionally. That I make sure and find out the resources she might need if she is having a hard time. Whatever that looks like, I’ll need to do it in a way that isn’t hovering, but understanding trauma makes an appearance anytime there is a big change and college is one of those big changes.
In so many situations I have seen people say that coddling children is not good. I have listened to mothers talk about letting their children “cry it out” and I have stayed out of those mommy war conversations because I have no desire to fight with new mothers who have the world wide web giving them a million different answers to their questions. Let me just say this: your children do not cry to make your life miserable and it is your job to take care of them.
Not doing so comes at huge costs.
Trust me: I have learned the hard way that listening to the opinions of what “should” happen to be “normal” can be deadly for my kids. There are so many things that contributed to Anthony’s mental issues. Trauma is the thread that goes through all of them.
If you are like me and do not like the idea of just kicking your 18-year-old out of the house because that is how it “should” be, then let me be the person on the world wide web telling you to listen to your gut. Your kids do not have to do things like everyone else. You are not a bad mom if you do not have a “normal” launch. If you kid needs more time or if your kids does not want to go to college, whatever the case might be, you are not somehow failing.
Our kids are whole human beings who have the right to their own journey. Our job as parents is to support them while they’re on it. That’s it.
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