How has your child gone from toddler to uni-ready in a few short years? (Well, that's how it feels anyway!) Remember when you had all the time in the world to take them to your favourite places, show them how to fend for themselves and spend endless days just hanging out? Once the reality that they're about to go off to uni hits home, it can seem like you'll never achieve all you had planned. And it's true – you won't. But you can make a shortlist of the things that are most important to you – and, more importantly, that your child will derive some pleasure from (if they're willing)! Go on – have a think and plan in some quality time now. Because it'll feel like only a matter of days before you're waving them off at halls and heading home without them…
1. Take them to your favourite childhood haunt
OK, you may feel like they’ve outgrown anything remotely childish, but they may welcome the opportunity to regress for a bit before they gear up for uni. They’ve been expected to grow up fast this last couple of years! Maybe you used to love ice-skating, fishing for tadpoles, climbing a favourite tree or taking a picnic to the park. Whatever, you used to love, let them experience it, too.
2. Go on holiday together
Lots of post-A-Level teens have a holiday planned with their friends and can’t wait for the freedom a week of non-stop partying will bring. (And who could blame ’em!) But, if it’s at all possible with all the expense you’ve already incurred getting them ready for uni, (and are about to multiply), try to get a break together. Getting away from it all, whether for a weekend at a holiday village or a trip abroad, will get you all out of your usual routine, giving you some real quality time to talk over any anxieties any of you may have about the impending changes.
3. Make a family album
If you haven’t already made a memory book for their 18th birthday (or even if you have), why not put together a scrapbook or photobook of the family – including, most importantly, pets! – for them to take away with them. If it’s a photobook, you might get a deal on having two printed – in which case, once they’ve gone to uni, you can share your reminiscences with each other across the miles.
4. Let them take something of yours
It’s not every undergraduate who wants to turn up at uni with an ‘I love my mum’ or ‘Dads are cool’ poster or wall plaque. But they might still appreciate something of yours that smells like home and can conjure you up if they’re feeling insecure. Maybe you have a scarf, nightshirt, sweatshirt or cushion they could take with them? (And maybe this will make you feel even more reassured than it does them. Just saying…)
5. Kit them out for uni
Going to uni is like moving out altogether in a way. They’ll need everything but the kitchen sink – literally! But once you’ve bought lamps, towels, glasses and crocks, tea towels, spare bedding, a mattress protector, pots, pans and the requisite bottle of quality booze, let them start using their new stuff in advance (bar the booze!). That way, they won’t find themselves in a new city with new people, a new room and all-new, unfamiliar stuff that doesn’t smell or look like home!
6. Make ‘together’ time
Book in a few family evenings. Spend the time playing board games, going to the movies, watching a film indoors, eating out, having dinner at home together without distractions or getting together with old family friends. In other words, make sure you have time to spend with each other. Let the conversation flow – but keep it as relaxed as possible, and only talk about uni if they want to.
7. Plan a pre-uni send-off
Don’t keep them all to yourselves. Potentially, they’re going to miss their old crowd from their final school years once they get to uni, so why not plan a send-off barbecue, camping trip or get-together for them? You can include yourselves and other parents you know if you all get on well.
On a practical note…
8. Coach them in doing the weekly shop
Show them how to shop ‘smart’ by comparing price/100g between products or buying own-branded products (if they work out a better deal than the BOGOFs). Help them put together a typical week’s meal planner so they know how much they need to buy. (Don’t forget a few cheap snacks for when the late-night/early-morning munchies strike!)
9. Teach them the basics
Get them to help you cook dinner (really help, not stir the pot with one eye on Snapchat!), then let them loose preparing family meals now and then over the coming weeks. Give them a student cookery book to take to uni or send them links to your family’s favourite recipes. Take them through the only programme on a washing machine they’re ever really likely to need. Show them how to shake clothes out and hang them to minimise creases (like they care!). Teach them that putting a bit of loo-cleaner down the pan and giving the basins and sinks a bit of a buff-up every now and then can make a place look and smell fresh and clean! Maybe even put together a mini manual of ‘how to’s for them – because they’ll hardly be listening now, but might appreciate it later.
10. Show them how their bank account works
Sounds simple, but lots of teenagers are so used to the bank of Mum and Dad, they don’t have a clue how their student loan will work or how they’ll be able to access their own cash (and manage any overdraft they may – or may not – be granted) while they’re at uni.
11. Get social media
It’s so worth having a Skype/Facetime account so you can chat face-to-face. They might not relish the thought in the run-up, but if they get homesick – or need a visual tutorial about something or other – they’ll appreciate the video contact as much as you will. Don’t abuse it, though. Let them know ahead of time if you’d like to make/receive calls and book an appointment accordingly (but don’t expect the same courtesy from them…). Remember – uni students need the same privacy as other adults.
12. Send a letter to arrive in freshers’ week
An actual, physical letter from home may be something they’re not expecting, but will almost certainly appreciate. It doesn’t have to be flippant, but try to include some family in-jokes if you can. Don’t worry it’ll make them homesick – if they already are, it’ll help, and if they’re not, it’ll just make them smile!
13. Plan a few things for yourself
When your child’s gone to uni, you may feel at a loss as to how to fill your time, other than by mooning around their room, smelling their remaining clothes and sleeping in their bed (bit weird, but lots of parents do!) – but not if you’ve planned ahead well for yourself, too. If you have a partner, focus on the stuff you used to do before you were parents. You’re allowed to use your time as you like now, so make the most of it. If you’re a single parent, join some groups that interest you, reunite with old friends and plan to take some trips to places you’ve always wanted to visit. NB: Do not plan to go to uni…
14. Remind yourselves they’re adults…
… and treat them accordingly. Even if your teen has only just turned 18 when you see them off to uni, try not to fret about them. They’ve (hopefully) spent the last few years studying furiously, taking control of their own revision and grade targets, possibly getting up to things you didn’t think possible and mentally preparing themselves to move out. By all means, give them a gentle talk on self-respect and safe sex, but don’t lecture them. It’s just possible they’re already a step or six ahead of you on this one… (In any case, pack condoms.)
15. Take a deep breath
Don’t hang around for too long, once you’ve done everything you can that’s useful or helpful. You need to make the break, so don’t prolong the agony. Everyone’s allowed to cry (a bit), but keep your goodbyes as brief and as light as possible, and try to part with a smile, albeit a slightly tearstained and lopsided one! Don’t fret that you’re abandoning your child into a big, dangerous world they’re unprepared for. Yes, it’ll all be new and a bit scary for the first few days – for them at uni and you at home – but remind yourself of what a great job you’ve done bringing them up – and relax, they’ll be absolutely fine. (They’ll also be back frequently – usually just as you’ve started to quite enjoy life without them!