Eldest finished high school last year. He emerged from the high school years as a mature,
responsible, caring person with a strong group of friends, self-confidence I could have only
dreamed of having at his age, and such a zest for life. Overall, a pretty awesome human
being. Go us! I mean, Go him! The other thing he came out with was an overwhelming
desire to take a break from school. As soon as exams were over he started talking Gap Year.
To begin with I was unsure of the whole Gap Year thing. The image in my head was him
lazing on the couch 24 hours a day, only taking his hands off the x-box controller to shove
more cheezles into his gob. Gaming was one of his ‘go to’ activities when he wanted to
chill-lax (yep apparently that is a thing). So of course I jumped to worse case scenario and
figured a Gap Year would be 365 days of slobbery. The objective, mature argument I was
met with was “No I will get a job. Plus I have to get into uni before I can actually have a Gap
Year.” Fair point.
Going to university was not an expectation we placed upon our children. To be honest I
know so many people with uni degrees (and the HECS debt that goes with it) who are now
in a completely different field. What else can you expect when you demand a 17 year old
decide what they want to be when they grow up? We encourage all of our children to
pursue what genuinely interests them. For Eldest, it was a career option that does benefit
from a degree, so getting into university was step one. As soon as exams were over he
announced he would work as much as he could, also mumbling about a website called
“thisiswhyimbroke.com”? So that is what he did.
As fate would have it, December and January dealt him two cards that he was not
anticipating. First, he did not get the scores he desired for his chosen course. Not the end of
the world. It simply meant a divergence from one pathway to another. Until he worked out
how exactly, he decided to keep working. There goes the need for discussing the Gap Year!
Then a few weeks later, when sorting through his spam folder, he found an email from the
university of his choice. He had actually got in! Yay! But, what now?
The Gap Year chat rose from the ashes and demanded our attention again. To be honest, I
was nervous in one way as he was working full time in an eatery in a position as supervisor.
He was earning decent money for an 18 year old, and was coping very well with real grown
up working ‘stuff’ like responsibility, managing staff and accountability. All great things, but
there was an image of him as a 35 year old burger flipper haunting my brain! Would the
allure of money be too great to stop him from pursuing his life goal?
You know that bit at the start when I described Eldest as mature, self-confident and all that
jazz? Yeah well all that came shining through again when he made his decision to continue
with his inadvertent Gap Year, working with the goal to travel at the end of the year.
Travelling overseas expands minds and enrich lives, so it goes without saying it is the
highest on his to-do list. To confirm the point, he has a world map with blue pins of where
he has been and yellow pins of where he wants to go (yeah I don’t care if Star Wars was
filmed in Tunisia – mummy says no, not going to happen!). Am I utterly green with envy and
bursting with pride? You bet!
The overall consensus is that the Gap Year is a hugely beneficial concept for many. It has
allowed many young people a respite from years of study (is it just me or is the pressure so
much greater than back in my day?). It has also enabled people to re-assess their careers
and choices in uni or to question the need for uni altogether. A Gap Year allows opportunity
to explore their world with a sense of freedom many of us grown-ups could only dream of.
The world really is open to them. For some however, to plough on through does have
benefits as well.
It really is up to the individual, and by individual I mean the young adult, not us parents. It is
possibly one of their first really adult decisions they will be able to make. Empower them,
support them and know that what ever they choose to do, they will be fine. (Whose to say a
35 year old burger flipper isn’t the happiest soul on earth?)
My advice to parents: don’t mind the gap.
Post Script: To be honest, I wrote this article 12 months ago. So here is a post-gap year update. Eldest has had a brilliant year working two jobs, a few quick trips interstate with girlfriend, buying some 'essential things' like two replica light sabres...I still haven't been told how much that little investment was... and he has had lots of life experience in the ways of human beings. Customer service and supervising staff will open anyone up to the highs and lows of human nature!
About 8 weeks ago he swaggered into the kitchen (well he didn't really, I just wanted to use the word 'swagger') and informed me he was thinking of heading off to Ireland. And by 'thinking about' he meant he had already booked and paid for his flight and accommodation - and was leaving in a matter of weeks! I stood looking at him a little dumbfounded. I was struck by the fact that I was looking at not even a teenager anymore, but the grown man version of my baby. The growth he had gone through in the last 12 months left me speechless. So, this Sunday we will bid him a safe trip as he jets off on a solo jaunt to the OTHER SIDE OF THE FRIGGIN WORLD!!! (the capitals used to reflect my mummy "shhhiiiiiiiiiiiit!!!!!!!!" reaction).
So yep! A gap year is a good year.