The empty nest myth

Alison Patterson, the Complete University Guide's University Liaison and Research Manager, is seeing her youngest child off to university.

She says that getting your new student ready for university brings with it a mixture of emotions all round. Whether you're seeing your first, only or last child off to uni, her insight is invaluable.

Shoot For The Moon

You are pleased that they have reached this point – passed their exams, got a university place, are embarking on the next stage of their lives. 

  • It is a time of celebration and anticipation. 
  • But it’s also tinged with anxiety and apprehension. How will they manage without you?

The answer is probably very well, because you have prepared them for this point and they are ready for their independence.

  • How will you manage without them, more to the point?

This year we are seeing our last child off to university. 

  • We will have been at this continuously for 12 years; not a world record but quite a lot of accrued insights.

When they leave for university you are not saying goodbye.

  • They keep coming back – every 12 weeks or so, or more frequently. 
  • Their electronic devices (all of them) mean they or you can be reached at any time, so don’t worry that you might lose them. 
  • We have never managed to mislay our children, however hard we tried.

Packing for the last child will be different to packing for the first. 

  • When the first child left for university the occasion was loaded with significance – this was something we had not done before. 
  • We had succeeded in raising a child to become an adult, full of potential for the future and she was going off on her own. 
  • But there were others at home and once the novelty had worn off and we were reassured that she was settled in her university, a new routine began at home and we learned to live without her quite happily during term time. 

Now, the last is on her way and our children are worried about their parents, whether we will manage in the new normal that consists of no school children at home – only two ageing parents that have not lived alone together for about 26 years. 

  • Do we need a dog?
  • Are we going to survive by ourselves? After all, we are showing worrying signs of memory loss, deafness and a propensity to fall over now and again (amongst other symptoms).
  • The ball is on the other foot, as far as they are concerned. Now, it is the parents that are the cause for concern, not the children.

When we load the car in a few weeks’ time with all the paraphernalia for university it will be as experts. 

  • Our guiding principles are: travel light – your child is not going far, you’re only going for a term, and you’ll probably have to empty the room in December. 
  • You’ve got the bank account and funds lined up, got the laptop, got the duvet and special pillow. Everything else is optional.

We are good at this. We will be efficient, economical, ruthless. We may be a little smug in our expertise. We will also be among the most geriatric of parents dropping their children off. 

  • We are looking forward to the end of this, in fact.
  • We will take a week to recover after we’ve dropped her off.  We will probably be glad to get that first trip behind us. 

What we are not accustomed to is an empty nest; we will have to learn to live a new life at home. 

  • Actually, we are looking forward to it. 
  • Let’s not make it into such a big deal.

After all, we are still moving our older children, now graduates, young professionals around the country. 

  • As recent graduates on fairly low pay, they don’t own houses or cars. 
  • In fact, they are scarcely less dependent now than when they were undergraduates. 

This is the new world order where on the whole the young do not have the means for full independence. 

So, let’s not get maudlin, or wildly excited about the prospective freedom that should come with empty nesting, because it’s just an illusion – they haven’t really gone at all!