September 22, 2021
Such Sweet Sorrow
By Dr Cassie Rhodes
A quick look on my Facebook feed this weekend revealed a multitude of bereft parents, bidding emotional and heart-wrenching goodbyes to their children as they left home to begin their university experience.
Mothers describe tearful farewells, leaving forlorn, red-eyed 18 year olds at their halls of residence, and intense feelings of loss and sadness as they head back home. They talk about fears that their offspring will be homesick, worries that they will struggle to make friends and concerns about them being overwhelmed by the new weight of academic expectations. This year, with the shadow of Covid still looming, both parents and young people might have additional concerns about what university life and lectures will look like in a post-pandemic world. For many parents, proud and excited at how their capable and grown up children are moving forward to this next stage of their lives, these feelings of grief might come as a shock.
But, the transition to university is undoubtedly a great one and can leave a big hole in family life. Yet, the fact that our children have hit legal adulthood doesn’t mean that we are no longer needed. Quite the opposite! This huge change, bursting with opportunities and challenges, needs managing carefully. These sorrow stricken parents, seeking online words of comfort, caused me to reflect on exactly how the whole family can prepare for this upheaval.
As with all things, preparation is key. Getting children ready for the day when they will need to take responsibility for their own everyday lives starts long before they box up their belongings for university.
Learning how to do the washing, sew a button onto a shirt or cook a simple meal can start when children are young. When you go on holiday, encourage them to pack their own luggage, using a checklist. These little moves towards greater independence are all great practice for when they’ll need to do it for real!
If your child is starting university this year, make sure that you have spoken about helpful strategies for breaking the ice with new people (taking a door stop to prop open the door to their room is a top tip), had open conversations about keeping safe and chatted about what to expect from the academic side of university life. Feeling homesick is natural, so make sure that your child knows who to turn to when they feel a bit down. Nudge them to keep a handy list of all of the people who are happy to listen, cheer them up or just provide a comforting reminder of home if they need it. Make sure that you’ve also normalised formal pathways to help, should they need to access them.
Discuss the living expenses they are going to encounter and help them to form a weekly budget before they go. Apps such as Emma, Money Dashboard and Yolt will help them to track their spending habits compared to their budget and hopefully encourage them to resist the temptation to splurge when their student loan arrives.
You might be feeling a bit lost without your teen at home, but young adults leaving for university need to be allowed to make their own decisions and their own mistakes. Resist any desire to micro-manage them from afar, check up on what they are eating or how often they are going out. Let them have fun with these first big steps into the grown up world. When you do check in with them, be curious, rather than interrogatory and offer gentle reminders about important tasks, rather than nagging them about the little ones. Help them whenever they ask, but don’t mollycoddle. Hopefully, they are leaving home confident in their ability to make good decisions and knowing that you trust their judgement.
When one child leaves home, the whole family is impacted. Pay attention to your own wellbeing and that of any siblings. Take time to do things together that bring you joy (as I said in last week’s Wednesday Wisdom, this is a true act of self-care) and enjoy the positives. There’s probably less mess, more food in the fridge and fewer piles of laundry.
In the few years before your child starts to consider university, it’s also important to understand the other amazing opportunities available to them, rather than focusing narrowly on that UCAS application.
I recently had an enlightening conversation with Susan Smith from All Things Careers about degree apprenticeships. You may not be too familiar with them (I wasn’t!), but degree apprenticeships form a central part of the government’s education policy and they are a fantastic way to earn a good salary and gain valuable work experience, whilst studying for a full bachelor’s degree. They can really put young people a step ahead of the pack by the time they have completed their studies.
Degree apprentices split their time between the workplace and their university course and they do not have to pay tuition fees, as these are covered by their employer. It’s not only small companies who seek apprentices for professional roles. Many multinational organisations, such as Google, the BBC, Goldman Sachs, GlaxoSmithKline, the Bank of America and the UK government, offer degree apprenticeships in roles as varied as law, accountancy, journalism, cyber security, digital tech and creative industries. They can equip young people with a salary, transferable skills and save them money.
This, coupled with the fact that 75-80% of people are retained by their employer after the apprenticeship is over, makes them a hugely attractive option, which all parents and young people should explore. The Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education website lists all available apprenticeships and I’d recommend that parents of teens should sign up to receive alerts about new roles and make them a talking point around the dinner table.
Meanwhile, if your child is departing for pastures new this September, take pride in the fact that they are becoming independent, accomplished young adults and try to focus on new beginnings rather than the sorrow of parting.
Are you a Tooled Up member?
Parents with teens about to leave for university can find further tips on supporting them through this transition in the Tooled Up library. You might also want to check out our Starting University Checklist to help ensure that your child is as organised and prepared for the practicalities as possible. If you have teens considering their next steps, I advise you to watch our webinar with expert in careers guidance and employability, Susan Smith, to find out more about the fantastic opportunities provided by degree apprenticeships.
I’m excited to share some big news! The Tooled Up On The Go mobile app is now LIVE. If you are a Tooled Up parent on a mobile device, simply click app.tooledupeducation.com and follow the instructions to install the app now. It’s designed to make accessing our resources even easier.
Our October series of parenting talks is fast approaching. Join us on 5th October to learn evidence-based tips for parents of under 5s. If you have a budding young athlete at home, tune in on the 7th for our chat with professional hockey player, Holly Cram, about developing sporting potential and on the 11th for a discussion about sports nutrition. On 13th October, we are joined by charity Lifting Limits to discuss gender stereotypes and how to challenge them.
As a Tooled Up parent, you get free entry to all. Simply log on to www.tooledupeducation.com and click the banner at the top of the page to find your promotional codes.