This is a personal reflection on starting university from a mum in Northern Ireland. Does this resonate with you? Do share your experiences with us.
For 18 years I have been the cook, the cleaner, the washer-upper, the birthday cake baker, the study buddy, the taxi, the banker, the shoulder to cry on, the wall to bounce off, the teacher, the confidant and the constant in my daughter’s life. Next week that is all going to change… next week I will help my daughter fly her wings as she starts life at the university of her dreams that she worked so hard to get into. I couldn’t be more proud of her.
She is so ready for this next step, but am I ready? Am I ready to let go? Empty nest syndrome is a fear!
In these final days I am cramming in everything that I think will help her prepare for this stage in her life. I worry whether I have covered all the bases that will enable her go forth and live independently and safely. So I am sharing a few of my thoughts, but would love to hear from other parents about what you have been doing? What I have missed?
Cooking properly for one!
Students don’t have the time or the budget for proper meals but it is important that we have practice runs at home on one-pot meals that can be split, put into small lunchboxes and a portion frozen for when time or budget is limited. Our daughter reckons I am going to send up five portioned and prepared dinners every Sunday evening – eh, don’t think so!
This is a struggle for many students and while I am confident this is one area she will manage fairly well, we have gone through on paper what transport costs will be weekly, basic food allowance, going out money and the extras. University life is about learning to live within their budget and I believe we must support and encourage this.
A friend introduced me to a taxi app that our daughter can set up and link directly with my bank account. It is not to be abused (and I will keep an eye on it), but when young people are out at night-time, no matter how many times we’ve told them that they do not go home alone or walk through any unsafe areas, we know that it occasionally happens. Having this app and direct payment line means I have the peace of mind that she can get home safely whatever the time.
Daily transport and walking the route
If their Halls or house is a distance from their university or teaching blocks, then before they start it is a good idea to walk that route with them and catch the bus or train. It helps give them a sense of security and confidence for those first few days as they might not yet know anyone else on their course and their teaching blocks may not be on the university grounds.
Packing all her needs not wants!
Together we go shopping for her essentials and I find we are wondering to different floors in the department store, her concern is having enough clothes and I am more worried about crockery, cooking utensils etc. She joins me again and most aghast that I hadn’t yet picked up a coffee machine!! How glad I am that she is going to uni, I feel a ‘wake-up and living reality’ experience coming on! We have only purchased the basics and the final bits we can get when all the roommates get together and we see what is missing. Also explaining to our towel-eating daughter that she needs to manage on X amount of towels per week, she doesn’t have mum’s hotpress (airing cupboard!) to raid for towels three times daily. Laundry now means doing her own, not home to mum at the weekend. Colour Catchers is something another mum mentioned to me to help them to stop dying everything before them in the washing machine until they get the hang of colour sorting! Might be a cheaper option than buying new clothes.
This is really important, and something we can easily overlook, especially if they are staying in Halls - not thinking about their laptop or other personal belongings even their car. Their car is most likely currently insured to sit overnight at the address the insurance is assigned to, but what happens if something happens when parked at the new address? Same for their laptop and other items. A TV licence is also something to consider, often the licence in Halls only covers the TV in the communal area.
Balancing their uni work load and uni social life!
This is so hard. You don’t want to be the nag suggesting they bury their heads in books from the day they arrive until they leave without going out, but it is extremely important that you discuss this, using their work ethic between GCSE and A Level as a marker. If they party too hard the first year then they have two years trying to catch up (if they can). So highlighting the importance of balance is crucial. Parents continue to be a vital link between uni and the student. Parents can access support for their child via the uni or speak to someone if they feel their child isn’t putting in the work. Try to attend any parents meetings to understand the avenues to follow for parental support and links.
Engaging fully in uni life beyond parties
Researching clubs and organisations associated with the university that interest your child is also important, whether that be sports, drama, politics or other. It is good for students to get involved with the clubs as it broadens their bank of friends, develops their interests and hobbies and opens the doors to other enhanced opportunities.
Things mums think of
In our homes there so many things that we all look for from time to time that are not necessarily deemed as essentials, but if they weren’t in the cupboard or drawer we would be lost. Such as pain relief, plasters, needle and thread, safety pins, superglue, shoe polish etc. Pack a few small lunchboxes with things like this. I have prepared her a First Aid box, hoping she never needs it, but if she does then it is there for the flu symptoms, toothache, cut finger and so much more.
Don’t forget to take...
A family photo before they go, one for each of you to have for the days ahead.