When your child leaves home for university, for the first time, it’s more of a wrench than you expect. Particularly if you’re used to spending a lot of time around this child. And even more so if said child has not spent much time away from home. Seriously, it’s quite an emotional time.
Well, not for me, of course. After all, I’m a rough and rugged ex-serviceman. But for other people… wives maybe…?
Who knows?! I certainly don’t know!
You know…! [sniffles]
On a completely unrelated note, a lot of people make a trip to the campus with their child, while they’re checking out their University options. If you’re one of these people, it might be worth looking for a convenient layby, just outside of the university grounds. Just in case you get a fly in your eye and can’t see properly. And you have to pull over to get it out. For safely reasons…
These things can happen.
In reality, though, the pending sense of loss starts building up long before the child actually heads off to university. First you have to get through the drama of the packing. Expect there to be a lot of unpacking and repacking. If you’ve got a daughter, this may also involve some fairly intense conversations about how many shoes to take. If you’ve got more than one daughter, it definitely will!
The more involved you get in with your child’s packing, the more likely it is that arguments will follow. Fortunately, there are some very good websites that list all the things your child will need to take with them. If your child hasn’t found one of these, it certainly can’t hurt to point one out. My daughter drew from a couple of these sites (as well as the list that a friend’s daughter had used the previous year), and found her resulting list to be invaluable.
A Google search of, ‘list of things to take to university’ will net you a mass of results. If you’re after a site that just offers the broad strokes of what to pack, there’s a good page on the UCAS site. If you really want to get into the details, however, I’d try the page on the Save The Student Site.
The other thing to try and avoid during the packing process is impulse buying. You’ll find yourself hovering and see they haven’t got something that you think they might need. So you decide it’d be a really nice thing if you snuck off and got it for them. Then, when your child has finally sorted everything out, so it all fits, you present them with this gift. This thing they clearly need. Despite having survived this long without it…
Try and avoid that.
On the one hand, they might try and cram it in, to keep you happy. On the other hand, they could say they don’t want it, which could lead to an argument that you really don’t want to have. If you do see something that you think they might need, your best bet is to check with them first. That way you avoid any issues.
And then it’s time for your child to head off to university. When I went to university for my first time (back in ’89), my dad drove me up. So it seemed perfectly natural that when my daughter went for the first time, my wife and I drove her up. My child’s university is only a 90 minute drive away, so we didn’t have to worry about staying over. My poor dad, on the other hand, had to drive 3½ hours each way. He didn’t stay over, either.
However, if your child’s university is a long enough way away, you might want to stay the night after the drop-off. If so, I suggest that you book your accommodation early. Especially if it’s a big university. Even more so if it’s out the way, like Aberystwyth Uni. In the run up to fresher’s week, there will be an astonishing amount of parents dropping their children off. If you want to sleep somewhere local, get in quick.
Having dropped your child at university, and survived the journey back, getting home makes it feel real. Be prepared for more emotion as you walk through your front door, and realise that your child is gone. I know this sounds overly dramatic, after all you can video call them right then and there if you want to. But the feeling is real, and it takes a bit of getting used to. And your mind will naturally turn to the next time you’ll be seeing them.
Which brings me neatly to this exact topic. How often do you plan to see your child during that first semester at university? Naturally, geography is going to play a part of this. If your child is at a local university, you have more options than if they’re at the other end of the country. It will also depend on how independent your child plans to be.
Some kids head off to Uni and want to establish their independence. In such cases, you are unlikely to see them outside of holidays, regardless of how close their Uni is.
Other kids may want to come back every weekend, certainly for the first few weeks. Something that is a damn sight easier if they are local. And very quickly expensive, for one of you, if they’re not.
My suggestion would be to make some loose plans up front. See if you can agree a date for that first visit, so everyone knows what they’re working to. Also agree who is going to be the visitor and who the visited. In our case, we made a Wednesday afternoon trip to our daughter after three weeks. We took her into the city for a coffee and cake, and swung by a supermarket on the way to dropping her back off.
Just as we’d arranged before we left.
And the main reason that we were able to stick to this timetable, is that she really got on with her housemates. Had there been any conflict within her house, we may have had to visit sooner. Conversely, had her first term not been during the COVID restrictions, and she’d taken up a sport, the visit might have been later. What I’m saying is, it’s okay to be flexible.
That said, if more frequent visits are going to be involved, then a bit of planning can’t hurt. For example, if it’s your child who is going to be making the trips, then how are they likely to travel?
The other classic option is a car. But your child is unlikely to get the most from a car during their first year at university. Typically, the accommodation for the first year students is on campus. Or, at least, as close to the university as possible, in a city campus. As such, your child won’t need to travel any real distance to get to their lectures. So, keeping a car on the road just for 10 trips home, can become an expensive proposition.
Having a car might well be a more viable option after the first year, when students typically live off site. But that’s a post for another day.
What is worth considering here, though, is whether your child has previously travelled by the mode of transport they’ll be using. Depending on where you live, there might be very little need to travel by bus or train. Which means that your child might never have actually done so.
So the question becomes: is your child confident enough to make their first journey, by that mode of transport, on their own? If you’re unsure about this, there’s an easy fix. Simply make a trip with them, in the summer before they leave, so you can practice the journey in case you need to make it. And, to be honest, a bit of reconnaissance like that is rarely wasted. I mean, your child is going to be at that university for at least three years, so you’re probably going to make the journey at some point.
Right then, your child is safely tucked up at university. And you know when, how and how often they’ll be coming home.
What about the rest of your family?
Well, there are some things you’re going to need to consider…
Let’s start with group chats. These days it seems that everyone has WhatsApp groups for everything. And there’s a reason for this: they work. You want to get everyone down for dinner? Send a message to the family WhatsApp group… Problem solved. There’s even a handy array of emojis for just this purpose.
But now that your child has gone to university, what do you do with your established group chats? Do you leave them in the group, so they get pinged every time you sit down for a family meal? Do you remove them from the group, leaving them high and dry when they’re home for the holidays? Or do you create a ‘remnant family’ group from which they are excluded?
The choice is yours.
Pocket money is another one. If you give your child pocket money, do you continue to do so after they’ve left for university? If so, how is this going to sit with any other children you have? Especially if the payment of pocket money is linked to chores.
And, speaking of chores… If your child did specific chores before they left for university, who does them now? If it’s another child, does that child get more pocket money to compensate?
Okay, so have you’ve got it clear in your mind what you’re doing with pocket money and chores?
Now you just need to work out what happens when your child is back from university for the holidays…
Are they expected to do any chores? If not, aren’t they just freeloading, and, if so, what sort of message is that sending? If they are doing chores, do they get any pocket money to compensate, and, if so, do you reduce the pocket money of your other children to compensate?
It’s a minefield out there…
All of which, finally, brings us to you.
If you used to spend regular time with your child, how do you fill it now they’re at university? You can’t really turn to another family member to fill that time, because what happens when your child comes back from university? Do you stick with your new arrangement, potentially leaving your returning child feeling that they’ve been replaced? Or, do you switch back to the old routine, and run the risk of snubbing the replacement family member.
If I might make a suggestion… Maybe consider starting that hobby you’ve always thought about. You know the one… That way, you can put the hobby to one side while your child is back from university, without hurting anyone’s feelings. Plus, you’ll have a shiny new skill to show them when they’ve graduated.
The same is true for sporting activates. If you used to share a sport like badminton with your child, do you find a replacement partner for term times? After all, you might be able to convert it to a doubles match during the holidays, thus keeping everyone happy.
Stranger things have happened.
On a more mundane matter, you’ll need to adjust your grocery shopping. You’ll need less of everything, now. This, at least, will save you some money, to put towards those trips to visit your child at university.
Likewise with meal sizes. All those meals that you can measure out by eye, without thinking about… Yeah, you’re going to have to start thinking again, because those meals need to be smaller now. And, this took far more effort than I was expecting it to!
One final thing to consider, is your absent child’s bedroom.
If your child was a standard issue teenager, their bedroom was where they’d be. If they were supposed to be helping you around the house, they’d be in their bedroom. When everyone else was standing by the door, ready to go out, they’d be in their bedroom. If you took your eyes off them for one second, they’d be in their bedroom… Seemingly by osmosis!
But with your child at university, they won’t be in their bedroom. And that’s going to feel disconcerting for a while. And as empty as it may seem, you could well find yourself drawn to their bedroom, to feel closer to them. If so, rest assured, it’s not just you.
Not that your child being at university doesn’t mean you can’t still mess with them a bit. After all, you do have their university address. And you do have access to a site like Amazon, which you can get to deliver to their university address. Which means that you can be confident that whatever you order, your child will then have to go and pick up from the mail room. Without any clue what it might be. And you can get all sorts of things for a tenner:
- 2kg bag of sweets
- Box of 48 packets of crisps
- Box of 40 granola bars
- Slab of 24 cans of Cream Soda
You get the idea: something that is heavy and/or bulky, thus making it cumbersome to get back to their room. And then, because of the size of said room, even more difficult to find a place to store. But, as long as you stick to things that they can use, or share with their housemates, they can’t get too angry with you.
Needless to say, I would never consider doing anything like this…!
Okay, one final thing to wrap everything up…
It’s also not going to be easy when your child heads back to university, after they’ve visited. Be it for a weekend, or the Christmas break, it’s still going to tug at the old heartstrings. The same is true, to a lesser extent, when you’re heading home after visiting them.
But, be assured: it does get easier with time.
And you are watching them grow into a stronger, more independent person. Which, as a parent, is exactly what you’re supposed to be doing. So well done to all of you, who are also going through this process. It may not be easy, but it’s necessary.