After the agonising wait for exam results and the scramble for university places, thousands of teenagers will be leaving home in the next few weeks.
My 18-year-old daughter is one of them. She’s off to London and is busy packing clothes, books, pots, pans and her prized collection of Vogue magazines into two modest suitcases.
In the midst of the chaos, an anxious friend texted her. “How’s your mum coping?” said the text. “Fine. Why?” texted back my daughter. “Because mine isn’t,” came the reply.
Maybe I’m hard-hearted but far from weeping into my pillow or pleading with her not to go, I’m thrilled my daughter’s off to the big city.
I’m going to miss her like mad – well, maybe not her Dizzee Rascal tracks blaring at top volume from her bedroom or her washing scattered all over the place – but it’s definitely time she started her own life. Childhood and school are things of the past and she’s excited about living away from home for the first time. In fact she’s counting the days.
But after talking to friends, I don’t seem to be very typical. Lots of parents say they’re having sleepless nights at the thought of their “empty nests” and murmur darkly how family life will never be the same.
Some mothers have told me they feel overcome by feelings of sadness and loneliness. Others are worried sick about how their children will ever manage to cook for themselves, stay solvent and resist the temptation to prop up the student bar every night. These feelings are apparently so common among worried parents that the national charity Parentline Plus has put together a list of tips to guide them through the next few weeks. These range from making plans for the weeks after your children have moved out to keeping busy and “taking time out for yourself.”
I reckon, though, that by the age of 18 or 19 teenagers are desperate to do their own thing without their parents cheering from the sidelines. My daughter and I have always been incredibly close but she doesn’t want me monitoring her every move any more. Even now, she rolls her eyes when I ask what time she’s going to be home at night, warn her not to drink too much (certainly not the vodka teapots they sell at the nightclub she goes to) or exclaim at some remark she’s made on Facebook. In fact I’m pretty sure I’ll be dropped as a Facebook friend in the very near future.
There’s no way in a million years she’d let me be a “helicopter parent” either, hovering over her and directing her life. Right from the word go, she shrewdly decided what she wanted to study, which university she was aiming for and where she wanted to live. She certainly wasn’t going to put up with any lobbying from me. When I once foolishly suggested a subject I thought she’d be good at, she firmly told me “that’s the very last thing I’ll do.”
Even if I dared to get emotional about her leaving home now she’d swiftly tell me to pull myself together. She’s set me up on Skype and I’m sure she’ll send the occasional text or email to let us know how she’s getting on. And on the plus side, a survey published last month found that 84 per cent of parents whose children had flown the nest said their lives had improved hugely. They felt “ten years younger,” were richer on average by £600 a month and socialised far more often.
If that turns out to be true, great.
And if by any chance it doesn’t and I can’t cope without my darling daughter at home, at least she’ll be back for Christmas.