I originally wrote this post (or a version of it), three years ago. My children, (children? they are now 25 and 22! ) have now left university, but every year around this time I am reminded of how difficult those first few weeks in September and October were. For me… not for them.
This year, of course, there are the continuing challenges with parents understandably concerned about the pandemic, and how it will affect their loved ones education, health and general university experience.
Remember that the continued safety and wellbeing of students will be the highest priority of all universities this autumn. Most universities have adapted their campus and teachings to ensure safety, whilst still trying to ensure that students can mix and experience the social fun they have looked forward to for months.
Coronavirus notwithstanding, the message of this post remains the same: Letting go is hard but it does get easier. Believe me on that! I’ve been through it twice! Here follows the original post:
This morning, my daughter is off to University. She has been with me here all summer and I’m trying really hard not to cry. I’m almost managing it. Almost. Three years ago this week, we took my son to university for the first time, and since that was my first experience of a child leaving home, that was a very hard day. For me of course, not for him. For him, it was the start of a whole new chapter in his life, and he couldn’t wait.
I had been working up to it for weeks and on the day we took him to Bath, I was a wreck inside. When we arrived, I made sure I was all positive and excited for him, in fact slightly over so, as I remember my husband Andy having to yank me out of a queue. Trying to be helpful, I had got into the ‘keys queue’ at the accommodation office, but Andy pulled me to one side and said “No. Let him do that.”
I was delighted and relieved when we met some lovely people in his flat within an hour of arriving. He seemed perfectly happy and I was determined I would not outstay my welcome. But I was having difficulty keeping it together when my son helpfully suggested we could leave. As I hugged him, he whispered “Don’t cry mum.” I couldn’t speak, so I just gulped an answer and got in the car. Once we had driven round the corner, the floodgates open and I cried all the way home. Andy tried to say comforting things, but there was nothing to say really. My firstborn had left home to start his new life and although I was happy and excited for him for him, I knew things would never ever be the same.
That first week at home without him was difficult. I tortured myself worrying that he was miserable and had not taken to University life, that he was lonely and unhappy. I fell into the trap of texting him. Quite a lot. Of course, he was out having the time of his life, and that was why he was too busy to text me back. But the silence from my phone awaiting his reply was deafening.
I remember when he was just a few weeks old and I was struggling with the car seat and some shopping. I wasn’t having a good day and I thought to myself. “This is what is going to be like for the next 18 years!” (I was referring to the responsibility, not the car seat.) 18 years in the future then felt like a life time, but it passed in about 5 minutes flat. My son has now left university (and is now training to be a teacher himself ) and is a beautiful person inside and out. He is everything I had hoped he would be, and I couldn’t be more proud.
The reason I’m so sad about my daughter today, is I don’t think she will really ever come home to live again. On the one hand that breaks my heart, on the other it makes me so excited for her and her future. She is kind, funny, clever and very beautiful. I can hardly believe that I (and their father!) have managed to produce such well rounded human beings.
The excitement they both have for these next stages of their lives is hugely gratifying and I am pleased that they are both so positive … but I can’t help thinking about the last 20 years, and all the memories I have of them growing up. And that, of course, is perfectly natural.
If you are waving goodbye to your baby this week, I really feel for you and I promise that it does get better as the days go on. Here are a few tips that helped me:
Keep busy. I threw myself into work for the first week they were away.
Talk to people about your feelings. I talked about it to anyone who would listen, including some business associates who looked at me a little oddly. It didn’t matter, getting those feelings out are much better than trying to hold them in.
Don’t text every 5 minutes, even though you want to. I know it’s tempting, especially when you are not getting a reply. Instead of realising that they are too busy to text back as they are having such a good time, you start thinking the worst. In my sons first year, I texted him so many times on one occasion without response, that I eventually went to his Facebook, found a friend I had heard him mention, and messaged him! It turned out my son was sleeping off a hangover. I vowed I would never do that again!
Be happy and positive for them, it’s OK to be weeping out of sight, but not really fair on them if you are seen to be very upset and crying as you leave, and can be embarrassing in front of new friends.
If they do have wobbly moments in those first weeks, offer a listening ear, and direct them to getting support from the University. There will be plenty available. Do NOT suggest they come back home whatever you do. It can be overwhelming for some students to start with; it’s like getting a new job and a new home at the same time, and we know how stressful those things can be, even separately! Don’t worry, most will settle in very quickly.
Make plans to visit mid-term so you have something to look forward to. They can then enjoy giving you a tour of their University and showing off their new town to you.
It isn’t easy. I know. Remember they have their own lives now, and their future is in their own hands for the first time. Trust them to manage it. Never tell them how sad you are, they don’t need to know and anyway, you will feel better in a few weeks. Be positive, happy and encouraging, and remember that you will always be their mum/dad, and they will always need you. Just in a different way. ❤️
These are all good bits of advice for empty nester parents. Our son went to England for university and he has never come back. Our daughter went away and after university was over came home and stayed for a year or so then set up an independent life I also traced our son once via Facebook. He has been in Ghana doing research for his thesis and we did not hear from him. Turned out his phone had been stolen.
Oh my goodness how scary for you!! I’m glad he was ok. It’s a very strange time but all comes right in the end once we can let go a little … and trust them to manage their own lives. Thanks for reading.
Yes letting go is important and over the ensuing years I have learned that he is a traveler and he knows what he is doing.
This struck home with me. I was recently recording a song I wrote several years back whose origins were in that moment when we drove away after dropping our daughter off at halls of residence for the first time. That was 6 years ago, and she’s graduated and living in the same city as us in a flat with her boyfriend, which is great. But at the time the empty nest syndrome was really hard.
It still wasn’t difficult, the other night singing it, to access the emotion I felt when I wrote those first lyrics all that time ago. You and I as writers are lucky to have that outlet of writing about it….
Ah thanks so much for reading. It’s funny how the feelings stay with you and you are right about having an outlet… my son went to uni for the first time also 6 years ago, but I still feel tearful when I recall how hard it was to start with.
This was a lovely insightful argument and really hit home with me as my daughter went to uni a month ago tomorrow and this last month has been a rollercoaster for us all to say the least! having to deal with flat having to Isolate on her first day of teaching, freshers’ flu, first hangover, first time not texting to say she was home! She’s visiting next week to celebrate her 18th with us. Hopefully dropping her off a second time will be easier! She’s happy and settled with a great group of friends so what more can we ask for.
Ah thanks so much … it’s a huge transition .. but it sounds like you are coping well ❤️