Dawn Savidge believes good communication is at the heart of ensuring your ‘child’ can smoothly transition to adulthood
My eldest child will turn 20 this year. I have enjoyed every season that his young life has brought me. Okay, well maybe I endured the tantrums and have now forgotten the sleepless nights. As he has grown, my parenting has grown with him. I have moved from the nurturing phase of parenting to now reading myself for the departure stage.
Looking back, we have faced many challenges and trials. I have watched him try to work out what he was passionate about and help him nurture those passions. I have sown seeds of prayer into his life, and he has prayed as well that God would lead him where He needed him to be. But this last stage of parenting, the departure stage, for me, has been hard.
Years 12 and 13 are some of the most significant years of your child’s life. This is the time when they are asking lots of questions about what their future might look like. The Government now requires all young people to stay in education until they are 18. Two-thirds of 16–19-year-olds study A-Levels, whilst some manage to secure an apprenticeship placement, and some study for T-level or BTEC qualifications. There is still a heavy expectation that students will then proceed to university, particularly those who have studied A-Levels. But with the average debt for a university graduate amounting to £45,600, many are choosing not to pursue a degree. 2023 statistics show that university applications are declining, the cost of living being one of the biggest deterrents for potential students.
I have always felt that the pressure on a young person to decide what they are going to do after formal education stops is huge. When I was 18, I had the opportunity to go to university, which gave me a four-year period to postpone the inevitable conversations about what I was going to do for the rest of my life. With that thought in mind, I have always been supportive of what my children wanted to do with their educational path. This has taken some big steps of faith for us all and lots of prayer. And sometimes things have not worked out, but that is all part of the learning process that both my child and I are going through together. In fact, both of my sons started A-Levels a year later because they tried a different educational route first, and that is okay.
So now, my almost 20-year-old has decided to take a year out, on mission with the Message Trust School of Evangelism. It gives him a year to grow closer to God, to press into God’s Word, to experience mission in schools, prisons and on estates, and to live with a bunch of strangers who will eventually become life-long friends. And as always, I am fully supportive. We journey this together.
The Message Trust train young people to be evangelists and missionaries. Around 80% of the students are not from the UK. It is interesting that we are now in a position where the UK has become one of the places for mission to be launched from instead of a far-flung third-world country.
When my youngest sister was at university, she decided to do two Christian mission trips in her holidays. One in Africa and one in America. Part of her desire to do that was to explore those two places, but also to give some of the time that she had to God. It has shaped her into the person she is today.
So, what should you do when you and your child’s educational and life plans do not match your own?
1. Talk and listen. You know the saying – we have two ears and one mouth for a reason. You do have life experience and with that comes wisdom but listen to your child. Try to find the meaning behind what they are asking. Both of my sons went through a period of wanting to be professional footballers. One went as far as starting in an academy instead of doing A-Levels (much to my hidden disappointment). As much as my life experience said that the chances were very slim to play football professionally, I am also a mother wanting to nurture a dream and instill life lessons and hard work into my sons. So, we talked, we prayed, I listened, he went, and we journeyed through the highs and lows of that year.
2. Make lists. There are so many options out there from 16-19 years-old, that you all might be feeling overwhelmed. Look at what they can do together. Map it out. If there is not a career end goal, what would your child like to learn along the way? What gets them excited?
3. Is a year out on the cards? A year out can be expensive. However, most Christians are used to financially supporting young people who are wanting to go on mission. My son is looking for financial support in the same way that my sister looked for financial support all those years ago. A year out can be an amazing experience to just focus on and learn more about God. It is a year where you receive even more than you give out to others.
4. Pray. I cannot emphasize this enough. One of my friends knew from the age of eight that she wanted to be a missionary. Her family was not incredibly supportive, and she ended up starting university to train to be a doctor. All the time, she continued to pray, knowing that the feeling she had had not faded over the years. When the timing was right, God clearly showed her. She is now a missionary just as she had known God had called her to at the age of eight. She never stopped praying. But she never moved until God asked her to. Pray for your child daily. The Bible says that God loves our children even more than we do. If we believe that, we should have no fear in their future.