Empty nest: the university challenge

Now the kids have embarked on tertiary education, your house may be this quiet until Christmas. But, says Max Riddington, don't despair; let down your hair!

This is the time of year many parents have long dreaded. You move mutely around your home, with no kids to distract you. It’s that twilight zone after they’ve left home for university.

You probably spent a small fortune in Ikea buying them enough to kit out a house, let alone a hall of residence room the size of your average fridge.

Then there was the student cookbook they’ll never open, the fresh fruit that’s now rotting and the duvet cover that will come back at the end of term with smelly pairs of underpants tucked inside. (If you have boys, you’ll understand.)

Mums and dads home alone go over and over that rite-of-passage weekend when they heaved huge bags, guitars and the chair from the bedroom that would never fit but they insisted on bringing anyway.

Now, a few weeks later, the house is eerily quiet and you fear the next couple of decades will go at warp speed, just like the last.

Don’t panic.

I took my son to university one rainy Saturday morning. I was going through a heinous divorce that makes Duncan Bannatyne and his ex’s split look amicable. My mum had Alzheimer’s and my dad had died suddenly not long before.

And here I was, about to wave goodbye to my only child, who had been my life for the past 18 years. I was stepping off a precipice.

start quoteI walked down that busy London street and realised this was it: the first day of the rest of my new life. – my adventure, not just hisfinal quote

I had that visceral feeling in my gut that comes with the big stuff. And I hoped I’d done a good job. He was a nice lad, clever enough and quite able to hold a conversation without self-obsessing.

He could work a microwave, knew how to get money out of a cashpoint and what to take if he had a hangover.

He was, however, allergic to emptying any bin and refused to wear a cycle helmet.

In his new room, I arranged his mugs, told him to buy bleach for the loo and not to lose his keys. I put a new shiny expensive helmet on his bike seat and hoped he would see sense. Then I left.

I walked down that busy London street and realised this was it: the first day of the rest of my new life. My adventure, not just his.

Reclaim your life

This time was precious. I was young enough to do things I’d only dreamed of. I was single, didn’t have a stroppy teenager at home and my favourite yoghurt would remain uneaten for longer than ten minutes after unpacking the shopping.

I could finally do what I wanted. Just like my boy. I could even go a bit mad and there would be no one at home asking me awkward questions.

I bought an orange VW campervan and called it Dave. Dave and I headed off to some distant campsite most Fridays, where I’d hook up the electricity and wake up to a weekend of new people and places.

And I soon discovered that Dave is a man magnet. Blokes love him. So I was never without the attention of someone wanting to look under my bonnet.

My boy leaving home was one of the best things that ever happened to me. It got me out of a rut and feeling sorry for myself.

So mums, dads, it’s time to crack open a bottle of wine, have the loudest sex you’ve had in a very long time, and get on with your life. Your empty nest could be the start of something good.

Max Riddington is a freelance journalist and biographer. She has written for The Times, The Guardian, and women’s magazines including Woman and Home and Essentials about the stuff that happens in life. She spends most of her money seeing bands she couldn’t afford to see in her youth (but confesses the dancing is still circa 1979).