Friday, 7 September 2018

Top three things your student really needs

You can't go near a shop at this time of year without offers for student starter packs and comprehensive checklists (thanks for this one,  John Lewis).

It all feels quite comforting (if pricey).  It makes you feel you're in control when inside you're probably panicking about what the future holds. It's a way of fending off the terrifying notion that you've done your job: from now on you'll have to let your child make his or her own mistakes.

Of course, it goes without saying that students don't need all this stuff.  (I'm not proud to admit that I packed my eldest off with no duvet, so he froze through the Newcastle nights with the cheapest 4.5 tog he could afford.)

Three things students really need to get a head start:

  • simple recipes of favourite meals that are easy/microwavable.
  • something comforting from home.  A recent survey found that nearly a third of students take    their  old teddy. 
  •  a note or card from you - saying all the stuff you'll forget to say when it comes to saying goodbye

And forgive me for being cheesy,  but what they really need is to know that you'll always be there when they do make their own mistakes.

Empty Nest fast approaching? How to prepare

                                             print by Carol Wilhide

It's hard to know how best to prepare for the empty nest because you really have no idea how it's going to hit you.  You might end up driving back down the motorway with tears streaming down your face,  or you might just feel it's all...well... OK.

But you can start preparing now by thinking creatively about what your new life will be like and the different ways you might adjust to a new routine. You can prepare your child too. They'll be much happier if they know the basics of looking after themselves.

 However, the main thing now is to shift your focus away from your child and back on to you. To explore what you really like doing, and discover what truly fulfils you.
  • Think about the times you're likely to miss your child the most, and make a plan to fill the gap: listen to a podcast, phone a friend,  meet someone. 
  • Make a list of stuff you know will cheer you up when you're down
  • Plan treats for the week after they've left - the more self-indulgent the better
  • Look into courses that interest you.
  • Sit down with your partner and make a list of stuff you'd like to do together over the next year.  Don't think 'He/she wouldn't like line dancing/birdwatching/ going to the footie. You might be surprised. 
  • Book a fabulous holiday and weekends away

Monday, 20 February 2017

Music sharpens the brain (mine anyway!)

Research just published by Dr Dawn Rose at Herts University points to new ways that learning an instrument benefits children: it improves their 'fluid intelligence' and emotional wellbeing - and much more.

But it's not just kids who benefit.  Last September I picked up my flute for the first time in 30 years (I dropped it because I didn't have time to practice with three kids)  and joined a class playing traditional folk tunes.

We're encouraged to play by ear, which is a steep learning curve if you're used to relying on written music. But it's so worth it. When I've stopped banging my head against the wall in sheer frustration I can almost feel my brain synapses connecting - or whatever it is synapses do.

Afterwards my brain feels as if it's had a complete physical work out:  exhausted but flexing new muscles.  And it doesn't stop there.  Between classes I feel the benefits in so many other areas of my life: there's a new energy, a new clarity.   Beats Sudoku any day.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Cars for empty nesters

The empty nest has many silver linings: less laundry, no one to nag.....
But this one has taken a while to dawn on me. Our sensible grubby roomy hatchback is redundant.  The big boot is surplus to requirements.  Now I can drive the car I've always dreamed of.

It's a strange one for me, because I'm a rubbish driver. I have panic attacks just thinking about the M40.

But I had a Damascene moment when I climbed into my friend's sporty BMW last week.  Her only regular passengers since her kids left home are her two teeny terriers.

I know it sounds sad, but bowling down the country lanes went straight to my head.  It felt a bit Thelma and Louise, the sort of thing women with no responsibilities do.

Suddenly I thought, if I had a car like this....or the vintage Triumph Herald I dreamt of as a student... or any car I chose because I loved it, not because it was big enough and safe enough - maybe I could conquer my fears of the M40.  Because come to think of it,  it was driving with a baby in the car that gave me the panic attacks in the first place.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Dry January and the Empty Nest

I'm so addicted to alcohol that I used to give it up for Lent.    This year, partly because my daughter was doing dry January,  I decided to get the agony over with quickly.

I really hate not drinking, and I give up with gritted teeth (poor husband).  Every evening I distract myself with elderflower cordial,  peanuts, the Twin Peaks box set and a late-night cup of cacao.   There's no way I'm going out to dinner with no wine.

Eleven days in and I'm pulling it off -  just one lapse so far.   It was the day my daughter left home for good and I needed consolation.

So why give up something you love so much?  Simple: clarity and energy.  Drinking was taking up so much of my time and draining my energy.  Why squander the new levels of energy you get when your kids leave on a habit? This is something you only really recognise when you give up for a bit.

What's helped me a lot  is to stop feeling guilty about how much I drink  - thanks to the hypnotherapist Georgia Foster, who has written a great book on the subject.   She doesn't believe most people have to give up completely, and she doesn't make you feel guilty about drinking. She just offers manageable strategies to help you control your drinking, not the other way round.

Oh, and the other thing that's really helped are Wet Weekends!

Monday, 12 December 2016

Hurrah! Your student's home! How to avoid a row

You've been longing to have your son or daughter  home for months, but now they're finally back you might be feeling a bit...disappointed?  Sad that you don't feel as close as you used to be?
You're full of questions about their new friends and the course.  They just want to sleep and catch up with their old friends.
The chances are you've already had a row.
It's easy to see why things get tense at times.  They've changed - even after a term.  And so have you.  They've got used to coming and going as they please and making as much mess as they like.  At the same time you're just beginning to see the benefits of not doing so much washing and having a tidier house.
A wise student counsellor gives this advice:
'When kids go home in the holidays they're often treated as they were when they left, and  arguments about tidying their  room or coming back by midnight are back with a vengeance.
'In fact they've changed, they've grown up, and it's not the same: they're coming back partly as kids of the home and partly as visitors. To some extent parent and child have got to get to know each other again.' 
It's true that your relationship will never be the same again. But you will be just as close - perhaps even closer, as you get to know your child as an adult, and deal with each other on a more equal footing.  The university years can be a big challenge, but used wisely they're a great opportunity to lay the foundations for a lasting relationship.

How to avoid a row

  • Approach each homecoming with a fresh eye: accept they're changing, and that's good
  • Don't bombard them with questions - relax, give them time. It may take time to open up about their new lives.
  • See things from their point of view - and encourage them to see yours 
  • Discuss new ground rules
  • Choose your battles - try not to blow a gasket about trivial matters.
  • Don't expect to stick to rigid meal times.
  • Cook meals that are flexible -  slow stews that are easy to heat up, for example. And stock up on pasta sauces, salads and nutritious snacks they can grab out of  the fridge. 
  • Don't forget that younger siblings may feel discombobulated too.

Friday, 9 December 2016

Perfect Christmas presents for Empty Nesters

Empty nesters have spent years thinking about other people.  Now it's time to focus on themselves.   Look for something they'll really like,  not something for the kitchen or garden.  The more self-indulgent the better! 


  • Anything luxurious and totally indulgent is perfect - a big bunch of beautiful flowers,  a bottle of champagne.
  • Her favourite perfume.
  • A gift voucher for a massage or manicure. 
  •  Nail polish.
  •  Silk underwear. 
  •  Music to dance to
  •  A great empty nester novel like Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout (also on DVDor Joanna Trollope's Second Honeymoon.


  • A gift voucher to try something new - a riding lesson?  a writing course?  Dancing lessons?  An activity to do together?    Empty nesters are keen to try new activities  - but they often  appreciate a nudge in the right direction. So a book or voucher are great ideas.  Organisations like Creative Breaks have Christmas vouchers for a variety of courses.
  •  An inspiring travel guide, like Lonely Planet's Ultimate Travelist  
  •  'Mamma Mia' on DVD - OK it's a cheesy old chestnut but it's very cathartic.  Grown men weep when Meryl sings 'Slipping through my fingers' to her departing daughter.  
  •  Two photograph albums - one for nostalgic family pics, the other for the adventures ahead.  Shepherds near Victoria station in London has many beautiful ones

  • DON'T BUY......

  •  Anything too worthy or too useful 
  •  Shapeless fleecy PJs or slippers shaped like bunnies. 
  •  Oven gloves.   A cookery book is acceptable - just about.  
  •  Socks,  soap or hand cream. Unless they are seriously posh.