The uni drop-off
“A child enters your home and for the next twenty years makes so much noise you can hardly stand it.
The child departs, leaving the house so silent you think you are going mad.”
—John Andrew Holmes
Together with thousands of other parents all over the UK we dropped our youngest daughter off at university last Saturday. In fact, as we were crawling on Britain’s overloaded motorways we played spot the ‘Unayyy-car’ at the sight of other vehicles similarly loaded to the rim with student halls related boxes, bags and duvets and of course the nervous looking fresh undergraduate. It is an easy game, you shout: ” Unayyy” when you see a car like that. It was fun for the first two hours.
Even though we had done this twice before and even though I have written a check list in a previous blog post, we had our frazzled moments trying to work out which order to do things in (gym membership first? – those induction slots go fast, or room first? – daughter was right, gym membership first) and from whom to borrow a screwdriver for the obligatory Ikea rack (How could we forget the screwdriver? The shame!) .
Somehow it all got done, we even kept our cool and went for a meal in town with the fresher, battling against her increasing FOMO (fear of missing out) and dropped her back in time to meet her flatmates gathering in the communal kitchen. And then came the goodbye which we kept short and simple. As my husband and I walked back to the car we saw at least 4 parents crying or at least blowing their noses in that noisy manner which spells: I’m not crying, really. Okay, maybe that was just me.
“A sob silenced,
A tear wiped dry,
A wave of the hand,
And I choke on “goodbye”. “
Patricia Erikson at www.peakislandpress.com
It is an occasion, which had been hoped for, then worked, prepared and packed for, still comes as an emotional rollercoaster of pride, excitement and profound sadness even though we see it coming with our eyes wide open.
Friends or colleagues trying to be helpful will tell you not to worry ‘they will be back quicker than you think’ – and of course there is truth in that. In our case, we don’t even strictly speaking have an ‘empty nest’ as our eldest has moved back in after graduating to work and save money for some travel plans. But it’s still the end of an era, and the occasion of dropping your child in a different place for the next three years drives that end home very clearly.
“Everything remained exactly where I had left it, even the TV remote.
I was like somebody in a fable who had got everything they wished for..
only to find out they didn’t really want it in the first place.”
Andrew Martin in The Guardian
So how do we react to this end of an era?
“People make a lot of jokes about the empty nest. Let me tell you, it is no laughing matter. It is really hard.”
Well, there is always denial. Some people I know don’t enter the empty room left in their house and get on with their lives as if nothing had happened.
The worrying parent type continues to worry. What about those horrendous initiation rites at university sports/societies? I have heard some plain weird, some fairly harmless and then some awful descriptions, it has to be said – and why do the rugby ones always involve nudity?? (which is fine, unless it ends up on social media). Will Edwina/Hubert make friends? Will they even like their course? Will they eat properly? Will they drink too much? I think I can pretty firmly put myself in the worrying parent category, but even I can see what an utterly pointless waste of emotional energy that is.
‘Let it go’ .
Others throw themselves into everything else that has been on hold up until now, freed up as they are from school schedules and even spatially in their homes – I have to confess that we have had a re-jig in our home to make the most of the newly available room.
“The thing is, when you have kids you’re such a captive to their school schedule so you get an invite or you want to go someplace or something, you have to be back (by a certain time). I’m very hands on so I have to break that habit,”
Like most things in life I don’t think there is a right or a wrong way to deal with this transition in life, as long as we acknowledge that it is happening. Our purpose as parents hasn’t ended but it will be different from now on. We’re less helicopter parent (if we ever were), more advisory capacity. For example don’t be the parent who visits their son at uni once a month to clean up his room and bring huge amounts of food (incredulous? trust me, these parents exist!) .
Be the parent who is just sympathetic enough when overtired Edwina skyping full of fresher’s flu has discovered the existence of essay deadlines and seminar preparations on a Sunday evening (this will probably be in late October).
Don’t be the parent who guilt-trips Hubert into calling home as this video hilariously sends up, be the parent who can take pride in their socially capable child.
“A wise parent humors the desire for independent action,
so as to become the friend and advisor when his absolute rule shall cease.”
Elizabeth Gaskell, North and South.
What wise Ms Gaskell is saying to me is that if life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans, according to John Lennon, then maybe parenthood is what happens amongst the chaos at home with you while you’re preparing your child to live as an independent adult.
By the way, looking at all these quotes about the empty nest by famous people: isn’t it telling how parents have felt this more or less painful transition since forever? Which brings me to my final point: sharing your experience. New parents meet up in antenatal groups and find that the only people who understand (and let’s face it, are remotely interested) in their tales of birthgiving, breastfeeding and sleep deprivation are other new parents. We empty nesters should do the same. One of the best cures for those empty nester blues is to meet up with other empty nesters, have a coffee or a drink and a little moan and a lot of laughs about Edwina and Hubert’s efforts at uni and your own inability to break the habit of cooking big family meals or even just getting onto Netflix yourself. How you deal with the transition itself is then a very personal thing which could involve increased energy at work or for those passions and hobbies for which you previously never seemed to find the time. Or even better still: the empty nester-puppy. But that’s another blog post!