By Nomali Cele
Life after school is hard. It’s almost prelim time for matriculants and soon, regardless of how they ultimately perform, hundreds of thousands of young people will be out of school. Is your child one of them? After at least 12 years of getting a basic education, your child’s life sprawls in front of them. This is a big, exciting and largely confusing time in a young person’s life and as a parent, you want to support your child through it. Here’s how you can do it.
Listening to your child as a parent is always a work-in-progress because it’s much easier to dismiss them as “just a child.” Or to impose what you want. Your expectations as mum or dad aside, what does your child want to do with their life after school? If it’s studying, have they selected a course they want or have they been too afraid to do so because they don’t want to disappoint you?
Listening is also how you will be best placed to ask questions. So your child is saying they want to take a gap year, why is that? It could be because they feel they need a break to refocus after 12 years of waking up early in the morning or they feel unprepared. But you will only know their reasons and motivations if you listen.
There’s nothing to be gained from making your child enrol into university immediately after high school if that’s something they don’t want to do. This will likely lead to an unhealthy situation for your child mentally. If they’re half-present at school that will affect their marks, may lead to feelings of anxiousness and inadequacy. Not forgetting the money you will likely lose if they fail or have to redo certain modules.
If your child has, in fact, gone off to university, they’ll still need your support. Whether it’s with adjusting to life at university or planning their time and finances, they will need your support.
While it’s better for your child to wait before going to school if they feel unprepared, it’s also important that they have a plan. Sitting at home indefinitely is not a good enough plan. If their gap year will not include supplementary exams to improve their results, why not encourage your child to take on an internship or a part-time job?
This planning will also help your child keep the end goal in mind. Think of it as keeping your child honest. Spending January, and maybe most of February sleeping in and binge-watching their favourite shows is fine. But there must come a time when they have structured their time once more.
Once the plan has been set out and the goal cemented, you can check in with your child to see how the gap year – or their first year at university – is going. This is especially important in the context of the former because if you come to them and check progress against their goals, they won’t view you as “mum interfering,” or “dad being controlling.” The check-in is to see that your child is honouring their end of the deal and getting what they sought when taking time off before going to university.
The nest will remain full
Theoretically, you’ve probably have been dreaming about your emptier nest for a few years but give it a few more years. Even when your child goes off to university, they are likely to return for a bit of time while they look for work and begin to get on their feet. The job market is tough, the economy isn’t growing as fast as we need it to so it’s even harder for graduates to get work, creating a delay on the empty nest as your child adjusts to life after school.
So when the time comes for the child to be a graduate seeking work, let go of all your timelines for them. It’s likely they will need to live at home for a while and it’s important that you don’t make them feel bad while they’re trying to get their lives on track. Support where you can.
Some young people leaving school or coming home from university have no family to support them. This makes their journeys that much harder. Don’t complicate your child’s life after school when you can so easily help them.