The day after the university drop off/ The Tough Love Dilemma


There will be no crumbs to wipe from the kitchen surfaces this morning. The recycling basket will not be overflowing with the remnants of packaging from last night’s snacking – including the carton that once contained the last of the milk. The stench of sweat combined with slightly stale food and leftover coffee in the bottom of several of my best mugs, will not greet me as I pass the bedroom door. There will be no grunt as I shout goodbye when I leave for work, no text halfway through a busy day asking for a transfer of funds for a (probably social, not actual) emergency. Hmmm, actually, that last one is still a very real possibility. The modern era has brought us all the technology we need to ensure that the teenagers of today are able, yet still very much unwilling, to get in touch, and I am under no illusions that this will be anything other than Only When He Wants Something. And by something, I mean cash.

And so begins the internal battle with my conscience about just exactly how much I should leave my eldest offspring to fend for himself, and how much I should embrace the maternal instinct to protect and provide at any cost. At the university families welcome reception on Drop Off Day, we heard the Head of Student Welfare recall a conversation with her own daughter who called her pleading that all she had to live on for the week was a bottle of ketchup and a quid. I listened attentively as this lady explained that her refusal to hand over funds immediately was instrumental in her child learning her latterly far more impressive budgeting skills. I nodded attentively and noted the implicit instruction to “back off” and let them learn, possibly the hard way.

Gone are the days when I can instruct and insist. I just now have to hope that the years of guidance, (ok, let’s give it its proper title – nagging) have paid off and instilled some innate instinct towards long term coping. And budgeting. And drinking sensibly. And mixing with others and getting involved. And asking for help if you need it. Not to mention studying. Fairly sure that is also quite important too.

So I vow to myself that, having given my boy the wings, I will now stand back and let him fly. I will text to check his vital signs, and as long as he responds to my daily query of “Alive?” – even on the days when that response reads “Barely” or “No” (as has been the case on more than one occasion) – then I will simply trust that the basics are being taken care of.

I had no idea that this would be so hard. A trusted friend (whom I consider to be made of far tougher maternal stuff than I) confided in me last week that she had felt sad and emotional when her son left for university a few years ago. I found myself thinking that if SHE found it difficult, I was entirely justified in becoming a teary mess for a few days at least. I find myself wishing someone would dump a pile of smelly laundry in the bathroom basket; craving a heated row over the excessive consumption of apple juice; missing the incessant background accompaniment of music I don’t know pumping out from the laptop through an amplifier loud enough to make me keep insisting on turning it down – now!

Of course before we know it, the Christmas holidays will be here and I will delete this post to ensure that I am not made to eat my words when all of the above resume. I can’t wait.

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