When you become a parent you are completely ready (sort of) for the arrival of your children but nobody really talks to you about the other big transition – when they leave home. You’ve just got them through the stress and anxiety-overwhelm of the Leaving Cert; results day comes and goes with all its fair share of celebration or despair and then suddenly, the college place is secured, the accommodation is sorted and within days they are about to fly the nest.
Put your feelings to one side and step into father mode
For many parents it is college or university that uproots our pride and joys from the safe, controllable environs of their home and out into the big bad world, where you, as parent, no longer have any real control about what happens to them. Despite your own angst about the big, teenager-shaped hole about to be left in your life, your job is to take this moment and make it count for your child.
As a father, it is important that your focus is on your child – equipping him or her as best you can to go out into the world, to surround themselves with good, reliable and trustworthy friends, work hard at their studies but also use this time to begin to discover who they are, what they want out of life and the type of life they wish to begin to build.
Plan a moment
Find a special moment not only to let them know how proud you are of them, how excited you are for their bright future but also to give them some of your own words of wisdom; but remember, take their lead – even though you have more experience – this is their moment. And finally, this is the time to also reinforce that you will always be around to support them in whatever way they need. As Marshall P. Duke, Professor at Emory University wrote in he Huffington Post, this is a moment that comes along “once in a lifetime”:
“Each child only starts college once. Such moments are rare. They have power. They give us a parents one-time opportunities to say things to our children that will stick with them…. This is a moment to tell them the big things. Things you feel about them a children, as people. Wise things. Things that have guided you in your life. Ways that you hope they will live. Ways that you hope they will be. Big things. Life-level things.”
Write a letter
Professor Duke suggests a letter, because it is something that be kept and reread for the message to be absorbed. Or go for a one-to-one meal to give them the advice verbally, followed up with your letter. But be prepared for your thoughts to be rejected. Not everything we know and learn along the way will be gratefully accepted by our offspring; after all they are now free to make their own mistakes, developing a personal set of moral and ethical codes for their lives.
So what areas are the most helpful? Here are our 7 tips for areas to include in your pre-college talk:
1. Plan the Packing
Plan out what do they need to bring with them, this will help you both prepare mentally and physically. Include linen, towels, books, tech (including a back up flash drive), cleaning supplies, toilet roll (essential), first aid kit and a box of healthy food. A few pictures and things from home will help to make the unfamiliar seem more familiar and ease the transition. A good supply of toiletries to last a term are also essential – Men’s Grooming Ireland have a fantastic range of hair styling products that will help keep a teenager’s hair in check.
2. Guide them towards responsible budgeting
Open up a student bank account and have the chat about budgeting. Pack them off with an Excel spreadsheet saved on their laptop that allocates how much they have to spend weekly on food, socialising, clothes and books. Realistically, you know the food budget will mostly be spent on booze but you can at least give them a structure to attempt to keep track of everything. Take out a new insurance policy or amend your own cover to make sure their accommodation is covered; having lived through a fire in a student house, I know from personal experience how costly replacing books and tech can be!
3. Encourage them to mind their health
Before they leave, teach them to be able to cook at least three healthy meals. Spaghetti bolognaise, vegetable curry and shepherd’s pie will all go a long way to support their bodies through the fun and games of freshers week. Tayto crisp sandwiches will not. Let them know what’s sensible about drinking; you know they are going to drink to excess in the first little while but you can give them good advice at knowing when to stop and how to support their bodies with good nutrition to recover afterwards.
4. Lay it on the line about safety
Alcohol, safe sex and personal safety all have to fall under the remits of any pre-college chat. A reminder (probably met with a groan and extreme embarrassment) about safe sex measures and respect for themselves and others can never go wrong. Encourage them to make a pact with friends to watch over each other on nights out. Has one of them had too much and need taking home? Is your friend making decisions or acting in a way that could cause harm to self or others? Make sure that everyone goes home together and no-one is left alone or vulnerable.
5. Let’s talk about personal care
Have they ever been near a washing machine at home? Will your child need a crash course in laundry (even a reminder about emptying pockets pre-wash). And, I know it sounds obvious, but a reminder to look after their personal hygiene and style is important if they want to make a good first impressions with girls, boys or lecturers. If your child will be Dublin-based, Men’s Grooming Ireland are the best barbers in Dublin and offer quality student haircuts every Monday to Wednesday to keep your new college boy looking dapper.
6. Agree the lines of communication
Now might be a good time to agree how often they would like you to keep in contact. Some students might need twice-daily chats in the beginning; or even a phone buddy to talk to while they find their way across campus. Others may want to keep everything to a minimum with calls only coming in only when help is needed. Try not to take this personally – emotionally, they need to know that you will always be ‘there’ to keep their sense of stability intact. And of course, social media comes into its own, allowing you to keep a voyeuristic eye on what’s occurring. Above all, try not to worry too much… and don’t keep calling.
As your student begins to embrace their new life, it’s time to ramp up the quality of your own. The house is going to feel empty for a while, especially if this is your last child leaving. Now is the time to start a new hobby, kick-start your social life or plan some pampering for yourself (our Mens Grooming Ireland pampering experience is the perfect gift for any man). After all, it’s not just the children that can now fully embrace their new-found freedom.