I was sitting on my back porch the other morning, reading quietly while sipping on a hot cup of coffee. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed one of my juniper trees start to shake. All of a sudden, I saw what looked like a tiny round blob drop like a paperweight to the earth. It appeared lifeless, it exerted no movement —until right before it hit the ground, two small wings sprouted and the baby bird flew off excitedly into a nearby tree.
It took a second for me to realize there was even a bird’s nest in the tree, much less to determine that what I witnessed was the final moments of a baby bird’s effort to leave the nest. It wasn’t pretty. It didn’t look hopeful. In fact, everything told me that whatever it was would surely wind up as a splat at the bottom of the tree.
But it didn’t. As so many baby birds have done in the past, they all have a similar experience, a collective moment when they can no longer reside in the safe confines of the mama bird’s nest, when they must take that step into the unknown, and they must learn how to fly.
Interesting how different things have become for Millennials learning to fly today.
Recently Pew Research Center released a study stating that Millennials most popular living arrangement is living at their parent’s house at 32.1%.
Instead of cheering our children while they launch, instead of nudging them out of the nest, many parents these days appear horrified at the notion. It seems our ideal is to do everything we can to delay the move, to minimize the risk, and to make our Millennial’s transition to adulthood as seamless and as secure as possible. To remove any uncertainty, any challenges, and as a result, any growth.
How can we as parents know when our love for our children isn’t loving at all? How can we give them the greatest chance for success in life? And how can we know when it’s time for our adult children to move out? Here are three signs that it is time for your Millennial to leave the nest and learn to fly.
When They Stop Struggling
Growth is always a struggle. It’s not supposed to be easy. Developmentally, this is where resilience is cultivated, where our identity, our confidence in our competence, and our purpose in life are forged.
Participation trophies don’t give kids a strong self-concept. Doing kid’s chores for them so they can sleep in doesn’t produce a strong, developed character capable of meeting their own physical, emotional, or spiritual needs. Only struggle, yes struggle prepares them to lean into life as well as their relationships in the midst of the storm without abandoning others when the going gets tough.
Malcom Gladwell offered, A lot of what is most beautiful about the world arises from struggle.
Albert Bandura described that, In order to succeed, people need a sense of self-efficacy, to struggle together with resilience to meet the inevitable obstacles and inequities of life.
So why do we parents remove every aspect of struggle from our children’s lives? Why do we desire for our children to remain fragile, weak and underdeveloped?
We need to begin seeing struggle as a gift—a good gift at that. When they are not struggling, when there is no external battle for forward momentum and independence, it is time for our Millennials to leave. Here are a few signs:
- When they spend more time on the couch than we do, they are not struggling.
- When they are not actively putting together and implementing a plan for school or work, they are not struggling.
- When most of their day is spent sleeping, but their social life in the evening is busier than ever, they are definitely not struggling.
- When they give you their grocery list and/or bills to pay, most likely they are not struggling.
- When they don’t have money to pay for rent or the cell phone bill, but they have plenty of money for manicures, dinners out with friends, new clothes, and other luxuries, they are not struggling.
When They Stop Growing
From the time we are born until the time we die, we should be growing. We were created to grow. In some way, we should be moving, learning, stretching, and healing whether we are 5 yrs old or 50 yrs old. Yet many Millennials today prioritize enjoyment in life over growth. When they are not actively growing, they become sapped of energy and creativity, drained of the very curiosity that would engage them, focus them, or give them passion for something that could become their purpose in life.
Purpose does not come upon us externally as a lightning bolt. Purpose is only cultivated within.
Home should not become a breeding ground for stagnation. Home should provide fertile soil for our adult children to grow. If we do not see them actively growing, then it is time for them to go. A new environment with all of its struggles and challenges is most likely the perfect environment for them to persevere, to overcome, to build purpose and to thrive.
American psychologist, Abraham Maslow stated, In any given moment we have two options: to step forward into growth or to step back into safety.
The question becomes, do we want our children to thrive, or are we more interested in them needing us? Do we get our sense of self as good parents by doing everything for our children, and for providing for all of their needs? Do we feel guilty that because we have been successful in life that we owe our children a certain lifestyle? Are we afraid that if we don’t provide that our children, they will not figure things out?
Here are a few signs…
- When it’s clear your child isn’t getting anywhere at work, they are not growing.
- When your child has no definite educational, financial, or career goals with specific timelines, they are not growing.
- When your child hasn’t offered to mow the lawn, do the dishes, clean the house, or run errands, they are not growing.
- When your child isn’t developing healthy patterns and/or routines for eating, exercise, spiritual growth, or relationships, chances are they are not growing.
- When your child continually demands their rights and freedoms while ignoring any responsibility or accountability, they are probably not growing.
- When your child’s bank account does not increase by at least the monthly rent cost of a room or an apartment they would have rented, they are not growing.
When They Stop Dreaming
Many of our life’s accomplishments began as a dream. I remember dreaming as a teenager and young adult of everything I longed for in life. I dreamed of career aspirations, I dreamed of marriage and family life, experiences, travel, and a million other aspirations. Somewhere in the process of dreaming, opportunities to invest in my dreams usually came alive.
If our adult children are not actively dreaming, actively imagining what their lives could be, they will not be in a position to connect with opportunity should it arrive. They will feel uncertain, doubtful, overwhelmed. They will not have the active, accelerated psychological energy to move when a door opens and to engage in the kinds of activities that will help them make their dreams come true.
When they are not dreaming, they are merely existing, and they will never muster the emotional energy it takes to leave. And no, gaming is not the same as dreaming. They need to be spending more time dreaming about their long-term goals than they do on immediate wants or needs.
Anais Nin said that, Dreams are necessary to life.
Victor Hugo also stated that, Each man should frame life so that at some future hour fact and his dreaming meet.
If they are not actively invested in planting emotional, financial, and occupational seeds for their future, it is time to leave. If they are not intentionally pursuing their dreams, they will never move beyond their dependency on us into independent adults.
Here are a few signs:
- When their only dream is what you will be making for dinner, they are not dreaming.
- When their dreams consist of what new video game, what new outfit, or what new vacation they want, they are not dreaming.
- When most of their time, energy, and/or income is spent on entertainment, they are not dreaming.
- When their greatest plans are about what they want right now instead of what they want for their lives later, they are not dreaming.
- When they look to you to dream for them or provide their dreams to them, they are not dreaming.
We as parents love our children. We want them to succeed in life to build a bright and hopeful future. We must get out of the way.
Deuteronomy 7:9 tells us, Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations…
We must recognize when our own emotional issues are preventing us from taking the steps we need to take to help our Millennials take steps into their future, and get help to deal with our own emotional issues.
We can help them. We can love them. Most of all, we can pray for them. We can lovingly nudge them out of our living room and into their future. We can. We must. They are counting on us!
Lisa Murray, M.A. is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Franklin, TN, with an undergraduate degree from Vanderbilt University, as well as a graduate degree from Trevecca University. In 2007 Lisa founded the Counseling and Family Ministries at Grace Chapel in Leipers Fork, TN, where she not only works to help individuals, couples, and families, deal with the complexities and challenges of life and relationships, she also treats a full spectrum of mental health issues. Peace for a Lifetime is available on Amazon.com. Connect with Lisa on Facebook: Lisa Murray, author, or on Twitter: @_Lisa_Murray