When Your Child Leaves for University
Saying goodbye to our offspring as they head off to university can be hard to do. In this digital age, it is often the case that the parent does not actually let go. After all, parents can continue to follow their youngster’s every move on social media no matter which educational establishment she or he chooses.
Parents can continue to micromanage their offspring’s lives. It is all too easy for the parent to be perceived as interfering with a quick text or brief email – even if this was not the intention.
Patterns of behaviour are often set early in life. Making all the arrangements and decisions for a young child can lead to an unhealthy co-dependence between adult and child. As a consequence, it often follows that parents who have over-protected their children may have an overwhelming urge to continue the pattern even when their children have reached adulthood.
Yet empty nest syndrome can be exaggerated. It is the parent (or caregiver) who ‘let’s go’ yet still provides a safety net who tends to have healthy relationships with their offspring in the long run. Once the young person leaves home, parents can now find time to develop new relationships, new interests, new identities. Many view it as an opportunity to move on. I don’t think it is coincidental that divorce rates peak around the time when the offspring depart. Many couples find they want to seek new horizons and discover their true selves – and find they have grown apart.
As parents, like anyone else, we cannot go back and change the things we have done. Yet it is during this period of transition when our children leave home for the first time, we can reflect and come to understand why we feel the way we do. If we can do this we can begin to accept that a part of our lives has come to an end, and that we are in the process of entering the next.
I discovered a quote which I felt could be helpful if you find you are struggling to ‘let go’. As a way of saying goodbye to a young person as they leave home for university we could say: ‘Take good care of yourself, even better care than we took of you’.
In other words, it is OK for both parents and child to feel healthily attached to each other. The parents have provided a positive role model and the young person has learnt to value his or her own needs. That way, each continue to seek and receive mutual support. At the same time, as we detach, we find ways to face changes in our own lives.
Which means we can all move on – both physically and psychologically.