With the new university term now fast approaching – and just started for some – it is natural for parents of first-time university students to feel very strange. Such a conflict of emotions – pride in your child for gaining a place and hope for the future, for new relationships and new horizons, balanced against fear of the unknown, of what they might encounter, and fear too of the aching gap that they will leave in your home. No matter how infuriating your teenager can be at times, she or he is still essentially your baby, whom you have nurtured and cared for, through thick and thin, for the past 18 or 19 years. Is it really time for them to leave?
These are entirely natural, human feelings. You have invested enormously in your child – not just financially (try not to think about how much this is, but an article in the Guardian last year set the figure at over £200k … excluding school fees), but, more pertinently, emotionally. Although as parents we understand rationally that our children are their own independent selves, emotionally we are bound to see them as extensions of our own selves. A part of us resides in them, and while we want the very, very best for them, and we know that this means that they must leave us and forge their own path in life, nonetheless a strong tie holds them to us, and part of us wishes that they would never leave.
So how can you prepare for their departure? Distract yourself by preparing with them – reading about the course, helping to sort out accommodation issues and practicalities such as bank accounts. Speak to other parents for advice on areas – I wrote a short article for the MyDaughter website, for example, a while ago, in response to a parent who was worried that her daughter might be lonely at university. Read Khalil Gibran’s poem ‘On Children’ again and cry, but know that you have done the most amazing job in bringing your child to adulthood.
And then sit back and wait for the end of term, and the inevitable load of washing which will come your way, and for which you will secretly be glad.