The best way to support your kid is to partner with them. In this episode, Reni Walker, mother of three and travel lover, speaks about her daughters’ gap year experiences, how they transitioned back into university and how Reni supported them through making these big life decisions.
After high school, Reni took a solo trip down south and although it was only one week, she said what she learned about herself was pivotal.
Now, she has three kids who are 21, 19 and 17 and two out of three of them have taken gap years and spent some of their time off travelling.
Going outside the norm to take time off from school or to travel alone is scary, but she lives by the philosophy: “you don’t want to regret the choices you didn’t make,” which she tells her kids.
By travelling, her kids learned what they like, what they don’t like and what scared them. They had to manage their day-to-day experiences- where they were eating, how they were getting somewhere, and how much money they had.
Going back to university, they were able to apply what they learned from their travels to their own life. They know how to manage their time, they know what to value out of life and what to expect. It’s really made them take charge of their goals and learning instead of being complacent.
There’s no right or wrong choice
Both of her daughters were confronted by peers who were concerned that they were going to fall behind and would miss out on opportunities by taking a year off.
It shocked them that their peers believed there was some sort of race. They had to do internal work to not fall into that belief pattern and focus on their own path.
She rather her kids take the time off to get the life experience they want and not rush into something they might regret later.
There’s so much pressure on kids to move quickly through these phases and she says parents need to help their children slow down. Each kid is unique, they can achieve all sorts of big things, but at their own pace. However, they won’t know there’s another way unless parents show them.
Navigating this with her kids wasn’t always easy, but she kept telling herself to not let what she wanted for her kids confuse what they wanted for themselves. Living up to a parent’s expectations can be really heavy for someone navigating their life.
After her gap year, her daughter took charge of her university experience and decided to take five years instead of four because she wanted to do well, focus on her mental health and make time for travel and work.
As a parent, Reni’s goal was to make sure her kids knew there was no right or wrong decision. She wanted them to be ready to take an opportunity, understand there’s no guarantee of success and be able to evaluate the risk and reward.
In hindsight, she wishes she had the confidence to push herself and not be afraid of failure. But when you’re young you think a decision might be fatal for your future, which makes people so terrified of committing to something that they end up going in circles.
In reality, you’re not going to be in the same career for the rest of your life and if you are, you can transition into something new, nothing is set in stone.
Reni tells her children to focus on the bigger picture. Life isn’t just about your job. You can find meaning in your work but you can also find it in travelling, volunteering or being part of a community. Those experiences beyond work will teach you different perspectives and propel you forward as a person.
Advice for parents:
Be honest with your kids. Life is an ever-evolving journey and there’s no point where they’ll “find all the answers”
Be a partner with your children, someone who will help them make decisions vs. making the decisions for them
Share your concerns in a genuine way instead of an alarmist way
Question if your fears are reasonable
Encourage your children to take a year off to decompress and evaluate what they want to accomplish
If you’re a parent or student you can learn more about taking a gap year during our Gap Year Exploration Month this February 2021