Failure to Launch

A phenomenon made famous by Matthew McConaughey and Sarah Jessica Parker, more and more people are experiencing the real life “failure to launch” syndrome.

The hollywood version of this involves McConaughey’s character moving back in with his parents after a traumatic life event and basically refusing to leave. In the romantic comedy Parker sweeps in and motivates him to move on with his life, and everyone lives happily ever after (after a well orchestrated kidnapping of course). What we see in our offices, however, is a little more complicated.

The past few years have brought our country economic hardship on many fronts. Many young adults entered college with grand aspirations of graduation and their life afterwards. Unfortunately, these dreams are not always seen through to fruition.

Some students struggle through their coursework, often bouncing from institution to institution trying to find the right “fit” for themselves. In many cases these struggles lead them to take time off from their course work or drop out of school all together. As one can imagine this takes a toll on their self image and self-esteem, especially if many of their friends graduate without them.

Those who do graduate successfully are not necessarily in the clear. As we work to rebuild our economy to what it once was, we see many new grads left jobless for months or years after their illustrious walk across the stage. This too can negatively influence their self image and confidence, as well as their trust in the world around them.

When our children struggle, we as parents are compelled to ease their suffering. We seek to comfort and care for them We desire a life of happiness and success for them. We strive to help them achieve all that we want for them, but sometimes we enable them not to strive for that themselves.

As parents we love our children on a level that most can not imagine. We have cared for them from birth, and their simply turning eighteen or graduating from college does not flip the switch on those parental instincts. Many parents find it difficult to push their children out of the nest, especially when that nest is empty. In our efforts to show support and understanding, we often do not realize that we are sending a message to our children that says, “I will take care of you because I know you can’t take care of yourself.”

So we let them move back home. We continue paying their bills. We allow them to shop, play, eat, and entertain on our dime. Of course, this comes with daily “reminders” that they need to be searching for a job, applying for college, essentially figuring out what they want to do with their lives, and yet very little seems to change.

When I said earlier that this phenomena was complicated, I wasn’t kidding. The reasons behind why some children fail to move forward and why some parents allow them to remain involves a spectrum of motivations and behaviors. Everything from parents struggling to redefine themselves now that their children are grown, to parents not having faith in the abilities of their child, to parents sincerely not realizing they are contributing to their children not progressing: all of these are root causes for such enabling.

Adding to the complexity of this is the young adults themselves. These are the years of our main identity formation. By our mid-twenties most people have a firm grasp on who they believe they are, as well as what they feel others believe them to be. If during this time they received messages of failure, disappointment, and conflict, this is the role they take on. They no longer feel they can achieve all that they had dreamed. I often hear them say they “tried and failed, so why bother?” This is who they believe they are now.

The feeling of being “lost” is also common. We see a lot of clients who have extreme difficulty developing goals for themselves, much less designing a path to achieve those goals. Without an idea of where they are going, it’s easy feel “lost.” If I walked into a store and said I needed a map, the first question someone would ask is “to where?” If I said “I don’t know” it would be difficult for someone to help me choose the right map (of course nowadays I would be asking my Navigation system instead of a store clerk, but you can see where I am going with this).

As a therapist and life coach, I work with individuals to first determine where they want to go. Sounds easy, but often that is our biggest hurdle. Only then can we design a road map for getting there. With that done, we work to rebuild a positive self-image and instill that lost confidence. Together, we focus on the future these individuals want for themselves and regularly set and reset small goals on our path to ultimate fulfillment. But that’s not the whole of it…

Earlier I said that parents enable the “failure to launch” syndrome, and thus we must address that as well. The list of complicated issues that drove us to this fork in the road must be worked through in order to: a) avoid being here again in the future and b) ensure continued success.

As the young adult grows and matures into the independent, self-sufficient person we have been working towards, their role in the family also changes and thus the family dynamic shifts. These changes are often difficult on families, and we often see resistance. Sounds funny that we would resist against reaching a goal we had all been striving for and yet…there it is. For this reason, I often encourage families to visit with the life coach periodically. In doing so, they learn healthy ways of supporting their loved one as well as increased positive family change.

Sounds like a lot of work, doesn’t it? It absolutely is. But then again you have probably heard yourself say repeatedly, “Anything worth having is worth working for.”