Leona O'Neill: Loosen those apron strings and let kids enjoy university life

Sending your kids off to college can be stressful for parents, but as Leona O'Neill points out, it's important not to let that anxiety spoil what is supposed to be the beginning of an exciting new chapter in their young lives...

Student life is all about making new friends and enjoying new experiences
Leona O'Neill

LAST weekend my social media timeline was full of pictures of parents leaving their children off to university for the very first time. An exciting and emotional time for many, excitement mostly for the students, emotion mostly for the parents. It's a milestone in any family's life.

Although your child may have been counting down the days to start the next big adventure, you might have been dreading the day you had to drop them off, leave them and go home without them. Seeing your child fly the nest only to come home for specific holidays when you have seen them every single day for all of their lives can be extremely challenging, even for something as hugely positive as university.

And despite having months, even years to prepare for the day, many will still find themselves facing big emotions and anxiety when the big day finally arrives. I will be in this position this time next year. And I give myself this advice – perhaps it will help you too.

Let them go a little. For the first 18 years of their lives we have helped them through the ups and downs, supporting them, trying to fix things when they have gone wrong. But the transition to university life is all about them finding their own independence. That's not to say you cut the ties altogether and leave them to their own devices, but it will do them good to go grocery shopping by themselves, budget so that their money makes it through the week without them having to eat Pot Noodles for every meal, and successfully operate a washing machine.

Although it will feel like the toughest thing in the world to do, loosen the apron strings a little, let them find their feet and assure them that they've got this, and also that you're there if they need you.

Many parents will this week leave their children at campus with a wave and a wish for good luck and maybe pull over down the road for a good cry. It is important to try to remain positive, upbeat and calm about their next big adventure. It will help you with the transition, but also them embark positively on their university life, giving them the very best start.

A student worried about their mum or dad being totally distraught at their leaving might find it hard to settle, feel guilty about enjoying Freshers' Week and perhaps make them feel homesickness more intensely.

Technology such as Skype and Facetime are your friends at this time, but don't overdo it. You want to give your child the chance to create new bonds at university, enjoy all the fabulous social events that universities plan for helping them make friends, and just settle into university life. Make plans to talk regularly, to catch up on all the exciting things they are getting up to and to visit in person once they have settled in. This will give you something to look forward to and help you build up your hug reserves for when you go back home again.

And what of when you come back home again to an empty room? Keep their room as it is, don't avoid it because it makes you sad. You might want to use it for a new exercise regime or a space to take up a new hobby.

There are a whole host of emotions tied up with your child leaving home, some of them very challenging. But others a lot more positive. A lot of parents connect more strongly with their kids after they have moved out, perhaps because they are not under one another's feet all the time.

Connections can also improve with other family members and your partner. A lot of parents see the time when their kids leave for university as a return to themselves, an opportunity for 'me time', a chance to lean into a hobby or interest they have let slip because of the demands of parenthood.

Sending much love, hugs and positivity to all those parents faking the cheery wave goodbye this semester.