Chiming in with a story to bolster OP, hopefully. My son also had executive functioning issues, which is in some sense a way to describe someone who just isn’t ready to prioritize things the way that high schools and colleges want them to. Our situation was so bad for awhile that, well, it’s really hard to describe, but I’ll just say that I’m one of the few moms I know who was begging her child to drop out of high school. His self-esteem was so low and his emotions were so fragile that the high school experience wasn’t worth the pain. He did finish high school, but because of his fragile state, we agreed that college just wasn’t the right move for him right away, and maybe never. Never is okay too. Also, we felt he needed time to recover. Also part of our hope was that he would have a chance to see that “life” isn’t all school school school, since school was so horrible for him for so very long. “Life” has so much more than school to offer.
Cutting out many details, he basically sat in his room for about 9 months. We were desperately worried for him. In addition to counseling we insisted that he leave the house at least once a day to exercise or just be outside for at least an hour. Still, it was painful and felt very touch-and-go for 9 long months. Then one day he left his room, walked into the living room and said: I have a place to live; I have a job; it’s in X city (1500 miles away) and I’m leaving tomorrow. We were beyond amazed and while happy to see that he was making some sort of decision, some sort of move forward, the separation was _____ fill in the words of your worst nightmare. His sudden absence was as if he’d died. I went through grief and panic, you name it, but in the end, having left home on a bus with tens of dollars in his pocket from his piggy bank, he resurfaced when he was ready months later. Some parents said: how could you let him go?
My answer is: because he is a legal adult, paid his own way, and we had no way to stop this. Also after 9 months of inactivity, it felt on the whole very positive. He had made a real move, birthed himself into the world, and as parents we needed to stand back and watch, and also to be there if he should need it. He came home after a full year away. When he came home he had several hundred dollars in his pocket, was dirty, disheveled from riding a bus more than 24 hours, had put on excess weight from working fast-food jobs. For about two months we reassesed each other politely, parents to son, son to parents, and we decided that we were all okay, both in terms of health and welfare, and in terms of our personal relations with each other. Meaning, he was happy and healthy, basically, and now the healing of the family could begin, and that is where we are now.
It’s been about 3 months and he’s happier and healthier, he’s sharing his private thoughts with me, and he’s searching for jobs–a little slower than I’d like!-- but ones that seem to fit him. He’s embarked on an exercise program and literally making strides to lose the weight. We are still waiting for him to rebuild his confidence about school, but he’s beyond intelligent, he’s supremely intelligent – which was sort of the problem with school. He could read Scientific American magazine in the 5th grade and that natural intelligence flipped out his teachers. They seemed to push him so hard and as a mom I couldn’t seem to pull that in. Also, while he could do that sort of thinking, he lacked skills in other areas, wuch as writing. He physically couldn’t write all of his letters until 4th grade. His maturity level and executive functioning and ability to perform in the classroom just weren’t on board. That disconnect seemed to bring constant trouble for him. Now his maturity and executive functioning, his self-regulation seem to be catching up to his intelligence. We are in no hurry for him to start college until he naturally leans that way. It’s not like he’s “doing nothing” by putting off attending college. Already he’s done some of the bravest, most enriching things a young person can do: leaving home and supporting yourself with no one around to help you for an entire year and saving more money than you left with. He’s seen things that we can only imagine. He’s solved problems that I probably really don’t want to know about. And boy is he grateful to be home and safe. Really grateful.
My thoughts for OP in particular are that you’re right, you need to let them fail on their own. Indeed. You also need to let them thrive on their own, and on their own terms. My children never cease to surprise me with the decisions they make; they certainly differ from how I would make the same decisions. Often this is uncomfortable. Discomfort is a signal to me that I need to change and grow inside. The best way to remind myself for how to be the best parent is to envision myself as less their “parent” and more as their “life coach”. That gives me a crucial bit of distance, like being the coach on the sidelines of the World Cup. Your players are on the field. They’re as prepared as you can get them. They can do the job. They may make big mistakes, they can come to the sidelines to ask advice, but you cannot run onto the field and score those goals for them, nor would you want to. Win, lose, get injured, help the injured on the other team, whatever they choose to do, it’s their game to play.