The first few weeks of university are hard. So much seems strange. There’s fresh routines to learn, the removal of everything familiar and the prospect of a whole new life ahead of you. God knows what it feels like for the kids.
I told myself I wasn’t going to be sentimental. I told myself it was an amazing opportunity (and one I’m slightly jealous of) to study what seems like a custom-built course for my daughter in one of my favourite cities in the world: Bristol. I told myself that the main thing was that she was striking out to make her own way in life, to shape herself into the best version of herself: to be fulfilled and joyous in what she did. I told myself all of that and more. And I was right. So imagine my surprise when, carrying some boxes downstairs to load into the car, I was stopped in my tracks by a sudden flashback: gently placing the baby seat in the middle of the sitting room 19 years earlier, looking to my wife and saying “what the fuck are we supposed to do now?”. Fast forward to today and I’m still figuring out the answer to that question as I pack the car prior to the big farewell.
Here’s the thing. We all set out with the intention of being the best parent ever. And then we blink and all those promises we make to ourselves and our little bundle of joy are behind us.
Relax. By definition you’ve already been the best parent you could be (so far). Of course you screwed up on occasion. Of course there were times when they professed to hate you and you probably weren’t that keen on them (or yourself) either. But now they’re striking out on their own journey. The map they’re using may be theirs but they are navigating using the compass you gave them.
The map they’re using may be theirs but they are navigating using the compass you gave them.
That compass will serve them just fine, even if they do ignore it every now and then. After all it’s a modified, improved version of the compass you inherited. You improved it by the love, nurture and values you applied to that biggest job of all: being a mum or dad. And now it’s time to let them test their wings as we set them free. As happy and proud as you may be, that also hurts.
Like my wife says, parenthood can feel like one long process of mini-bereavements. I know that’s true from the times I’ve stood in the kitchen only to find myself unexpectedly choking up to a song (play me Paul Weller’s ‘Gravity’ at the moment and I won’t be held responsible for my collapse) . But parenthood is also one long process of new beginnings. And that’s something to get excited about.
Remember: it’s your time too. The sheer fact of making it this far is a remarkable feat. To be sending your loved ones to study for their own enjoyment and betterment – how cool is that? You may find yourself surprised by the extra time the absence of a child creates – particularly if you’re the primary carer. You get to choose how to fill that time. Of course, a few tears (listening to Gravity is optional) are to be expected and more than that, they’re healthy. Now you get to take to the sky and test your own wings too. It’ll only give you a better perspective on how that kid of yours is getting on and in doing so you may even find yourself becoming a better parent (spoiler alert – it’s a job you never retire from).
Remember: it’s your time too.
And kids, for those of you still reading, over the coming weeks, months and years there will be many days where you slip comfortably into the skin of the adult you’re becoming. You’ll feel like you’ve got all the answers and that’s awesome. It’s also when your parent(s) will be at their most proud. But there will also be the days when you feel like the child you once were and none of those answers stack up. Don’t worry, that’s ok too. It’s natural. Everyone needs comforting from time to time. That’s when your mum and dad get to look after you again. And although they’ll want to see you back on your feet and taking on the world – they’ll also love the chance to give you some good old fashioned TLC. All you’ve got to do is let them.
So, whether you’re standing still as you wave goodbye to your folks as they drive away or you’re the one driving away, you’re both about to embark on a new adventure all of your own. And what’s better than getting back together with people you love to share the stories of your adventures?
I’ll leave it to you to make the story a good one.
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