A mother’s perspective on her daughter leaving home to go to university and the importance of letting go.
During the summer two years ago my daughter was about to turn 18 and find out her A-level results along with her destiny for the following few years. She’d worked so hard and had consistently ‘done the right thing’ – really a model child – progressing seamlessly from Year 11 and GCSEs into Sixth Form and now looking forward to the opportunities that were available to her as a high-achieving student.
We scoured the UCAS handbook and numerous university websites. Fortunately my daughter had a good idea of what she wanted to study and the environment within which she wanted to live and work. This helped to narrow down the university choices to just two, which we duly visited, and her final decision was made fairly easily.
The university of choice offered the right course, it was a campus location and not too far from home but would require her to live away from home. The university experience was going to become a reality in the autumn.
Results day came and she predictably achieved above and beyond the necessary grades. A couple of weeks later we spent a wonderful sunny August day visiting the university campus, picking blackberries and trying to view the new halls which still weren’t fully built! We spent time discussing what the experience might be like, purchasing the necessary cooking and living paraphernalia and generally preparing for the next stage of life.
Whilst my daughter had never exhibited a huge desire to be independent, we both, in our own way, knew she was ready for the change academically, socially and personally. Many, many bags were packed, the car loaded and she was ready to leave home.
Arriving and settling in went smoothly enough. She was registered as an official student at the university and installed in her room. Saying good-bye and leaving was predictably hard, but the time came to make a move; me to go back home and my daughter to start the new chapter in her life.
The journey home in the suddenly very empty car was lonely and accompanied by a big lump in my throat. The necessary calls were made in the evening to let her doting grandmother and a few friends know that the day had gone well and that my daughter was safe and hopefully happily enjoying making new friends.
The car had seemed empty but that was nothing compared to being back at home. It’s only been my daughter and me at home for most of her life, me a single parent, her a single child, so it’s never been one of those noisy, bustling family homes. But now it was extremely quiet and for the first time in many years I only had myself to consider in terms of when and what to eat, what to watch on TV and so on.
Whilst I’ve always been incredibly comfortable in my own space and with my own company this was a new experience and not one in hindsight that I’d properly prepared for.
The first meal was a lonely affair. We’d always eaten together, family dinners, even if it is only a small family unit. It was with some relief that I went off to work on Monday morning, a welcome distraction from missing my girl. Thank goodness for mobile phones enabling numerous calls and texts – we were constantly in touch and it wouldn’t be long until the weekend when we’d talked about my going over to visit.
I honestly anticipated enjoying my liberation and slipping back into the independent lifestyle that I had so enjoyed in my twenties. I thought it was all going rather well until the end of the first year. Life was good and my daughter had again done exceptionally well academically. She came home for the summer holidays, exhausted, and as I was working in a primary school I also broke up for the lovely six-week summer break.
I wanted to be able to provide the home comforts that my daughter deserved to come back to, but quite unexpectedly I fell apart. There were several reasons for this, in retrospect all too mundane to go into now, although perhaps it is poignant that I had my 50th birthday at that time.
Instead of the summer we’d talked about and were looking forward to, my daughter ended up providing me with support. It was a first (on this scale), but she was amazing. Her maturity, patience and love enveloped me and helped to turn everything around by the time I had to return to work in September. She, however, had to go back to university without having had a fabulous holiday, but having shown and proven to me that she was truly growing up.
We’re now two years on from the start of the university phase and we’ve both established good and positive lives, lived in two parts – term-time when we’re apart and holidays when the family is reunited. As my daughter enters her third and final year she’s bracing herself for yet more focused hours of learning and hard work with the prospect of graduating next summer.
My new role, as Mum, in her now adult life has changed so much from when she was a young dependent child, and even from when she was a teenager and already developing into the wonderful adult that she is now. Whilst the role changes the relationship is unaffected, full of love and respect.