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Starting university: advice for parents

University beckons - but so too does empty nest syndrome because the day you once thought was a million years away is looming on the horizon, suddenly. Here are our tips for taking some of the stress out of it.

By Mumsnet HQ | Last updated Apr 17, 2024

Students at Uni

It's leaving home time (let's overlook the fact that, chances are, your child will be back under your roof in three years' time). University or college entrance marks a truly momentous watershed – it's the point at which your child joins the ranks of grown-ups.

Unfortunately, your child might seem a long way from being a grown-up as university application deadlines near and he/she shows no application whatsoever for the business of a) looking around and b) actually applying for a place.

As this user said: “My son is clueless and unmotivated about what he wants to do… An open day visit if organised, or even thought of, by him would cheer the cockles of my despairing heart. Anyone else out there thinking, if I don't research the courses and find the open days, then absolutely nothing will happen?”

Still, eventually your child will probably press the button on completing an online UCAS application; and then the August day will arrive when you find out whether or not the grades are sufficient to fulfil the requirements. If so, you're now in the countdown to what's known in the parenting trade as empty nest syndrome.

How to survive empty nest syndrome

Middle Aged Couple

Empty nest syndrome is horrid – it's right up there with homesickness as something that gnaws away at you. But you can, you must move onwards. Here's how:

  • Spend more time with your partner, if you have one: tricky if you've realised you don't actually like one another. But stay positive, you've come this far. Try weekends away, new interests. Basically, things you can do together. Things you've waited all these years to do, in fact.

  • Talk to other couples whose children have left home. They'll understand what you're going through, and they might have ideas on how to deal with it.

  • Talk to your child about the practical aspects of living independently. Pining for your absent teen is bad enough without being worried sick that they're not eating properly, or don't know how to sort out their laundry (although you probably had those bases covered long ago).

*Get on Mumsnet Talk, where you'll find plenty of parents in the same boat.

What Mumsnet users have to say about children leaving home

"I have just experienced my eldest going a long way away to university. I've been married 25+ years and still have two at home, but having to re-evaluate my role is very real for me. I feel proud that we must have done 'something right' for him to have got this far. The downside is the longing to have them back in your care and having to get used to the fact that your relationship with them is changing forever."

"The first week is the worst and it does get better. Do they have Skype? At least I can see my daughter is still alive as she changes status from 'away' to 'offline', as she doesn't answer texts or emails. Actually, I think she is just having so much fun she hasn't time for lonely mum."

"The school runs were where we got all of our talking done, I do miss that hugely. I also keep telling myself that I have done a better job than I realised about making him independent, but I know that if I ever want to speak to him on the phone in future, I will be the one picking up the phone to do so, which makes me feel very sad."

"The missing them gets easier but never goes away. Now my daughter's in her third year, I am used to it. But you always get sudden spikes of really missing them/overthinking it all. The feelings of missing them come far less often than when they are starting out."