11/07/2011 04:04 EST | Updated 01/07/2012 05:12 EST

University and the Cast-Off Parent


Ah, the sights and sounds of back-to-school for the sandwich generation. Moms sobbing into their coffee at the Guelph University Second Cup on move-in day. Parents "checking in" via Skype only to be greeted by a "do not disturb" sign. Moms awkwardly straddling the old role of parent and the new role of roommate as their kids head off to a frosh party: "You should have something in your stomach if you're going to be drinking!"

Whether your child will be living at home or heading out of town, it's all in the game for the cast-off parent whose child is starting university.

After completing the campus drop-off, a friend of mine said she hoped that she and her husband had done enough to prepare their daughter to be this independent.

The kids are alright

I'm sure they have. Besides, we managed didn't we? When I left town for university I was on my own and I paid for school and everything else by myself. There were no credit cards given to kids, no bank accounts set up to keep them afloat. Nothing focuses the mind like gathering change for the groceries and then schlepping them back to residence on transit. I trace my skill as the family pack mule to those early days.

Do our kids have it easier? Sure they do. Can they deal? Absolutely. They are smart, resourceful and utterly capable. By the second week, most have found their groove and made new friends.  They're pumped to be in charge of their own destiny -- a feeling their lonesome parents would like to experience.

"Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend.  Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read."

Some parents use humour to deal with the transition like the single dad who now shares his big, empty house with the family cat.

When asked how he was adjusting to his son being away he said, "I looked into the dishwasher the other day. Not emptied. Just like when David was here. I looked at the lawn. Not cut.  Just like when David was here." This guy will always put a humorous spin on things--but I think he's got the right idea.  Laughter helps us forget what tugs at our hearts and sometimes it helps us slip into a new reality without realizing it.

The irony of parenting

No doubt, it's a wrenching time; our kids have been with us for so long, day and night, and we miss them. They may have been the focus of our lives.  The irony is, we try very hard to be good parents and to raise smart, savvy, caring kids, but if we do, this day will surely come. If we raise them well, we'll raise them to be independent (of us). If we raise them well, we'll raise them to be able to leave. That's the job of parenting.

But parenting isn't all that defines us. This challenging juncture is an opportunity in disguise, an opportunity to embark upon adventures of our own.

While you're making that to-do list, consider this one:

Tips for parents:

  • Remember that your kids will be OK.
  • Take time to adjust to the new order and share your feelings with friends and family.
  • This is your opportunity to take time for yourself, either alone or with your significant other.
  • The more fulfilled you are, the less likely it is that you'll be worrying about your kids.
  • If your kids are getting in touch less often, it probably means they're busy and happy.
  • You know your child best. Trust your instincts and let them know you're there for them if they need you.
  • Learn to text if you don't already. It's the quickest and least obtrusive way to check in for an update.

Tips for kids:

All I have to say is "peas and cheese casserole." This is one of the cheapest, healthiest and easiest to make meals you'll ever have at university. Microwave some peas in a bowl, pour off the excess water, sprinkle shredded cheese on top, microwave slightly to melt the cheese, and then sprinkle Parmesan cheese on top along with your seasoning of choice. I dreamt this up when I was a poor university student so I know it works. And it's a parent pleaser; it'll warm you up on a blustery day and you've got a veggie, some dairy, some protein and even a starch if you count the peas twice.

(With thanks to Groucho Marx for the quote and my fellow cast-offs for the stories...) Canada's Guide to retirement living