Your child is flying the nest at last – heading off to the big wide world of higher education. You're likely to be feeling a whole raft of conflicting emotions, which include the urge to go with her and move into her digs just to make sure she's OK.
Unfortunately, your baby is grown-up. So remember - you are not the one at university. Yes, I know, this sounds incredibly unreasonable – you're probably the one paying for it, after all – but your child has to be the one to sort out any issues. If your child comes to you with a problem, your immediate instinct is probably to pick up the phone and demand to speak to the person in charge – but you really won't be doing any good. The university's contract is with the learner, not with the person who pays the bills – and your child needs to fight her own battles.
"Let them be adults. The relationship should be with the learner and the university, not with the parents," says an academic administrator at a leading London university. Make sure she's got all the paperwork she needs (all her bank details; accommodation agreements and so on) but after that, try not to interfere. Even if you do have the best of intentions.
However, there are some common problems you may find yourself getting involved with, whether you want to or not.
'I hate it here and want to come home!'
Probably the most common problem faced by first years, and a horror for parents who are already out of pocket and want their child to do well. Before any decisions are taken, work through these questions:
Do you like the university itself? If your child likes the university itself, then a course switch might be an option.
Do you like the course? If it's the university itself that's the problem (perhaps it's too far away from home, or your child would be happier on a campus rather than based away from the college buildings) a transfer could be the best bet.
Is there a problem with accommodation? – Whether your child isn't keen on a room-mate or flatmate, or whether the atmosphere of a house or halls of residence isn't quite right, this is simple to fix (although she might have to wait until the end of term to move so that she doesn't lose her deposit).
Is this linked to something going on at home? If there are problems in the family, deferring entry until next term or next year might be a possibility.
It may transpire, though, that university just isn't the right route for your child. If she has thought about it properly and has a plan (that doesn't just consist of "moving back home"), respect her decision. It could be that she decides to go back to higher education at some point in the future, or she may never get a degree. Either way, a happy child is the most important thing.
Disgusting student digs
You may think of yourself as the most laid-back parent ever, but it's an odds-on certainty that at some point in the next few years you will weep while leaving your child in a house or room that you think is unfit for human habitation.
It's equally definite that this house or room will be your child's pride and joy – she will be delighted that she has her own place to live, one she's picked out herself and decorated to her own taste, one where she doesn't have to obey your rules.
So for the love of all that is pure, don't criticise it. In any way, shape or form. And don't start cleaning the bathroom or kitchen unless explicitly invited.
The end of a teenage romance
If your child goes off to a new town without his or her sixth-form sweetheart, the chances are, unfortunately, that the long-distance thing won't work for them. Whether your child is the one doing the breaking up or the one left heartbroken, expect tearful phone-calls. Please make sure you're not the one crying, no matter how fond you were of your child's ex. Making your child feel guilty will not help matters at all.
Your child may find himself short of money at some point in the first term, so you have a judgement call to make. Do you bail him out, or do you tell him to get a job? The compromise would be you stepping in to settle bills that need to be paid (like rent), ordering him enough food for the rest of the term, then leaving him to it – but it depends how responsible you think your child really is, and whether he'll learn his lesson from the debacle (and pay you back, of course).
Remember - this too shall pass
Whatever is going on that's stressing your child, it won't last forever. Remember that university doesn't just teach expertise in an academic subject, those three years also develop teenagers into well-rounded adults – and dealing with seemingly insurmountable problems is a part of that.
From your own experience, do you have any more advice to give parents of first time students?
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