The empty room my daughter leaves when she goes toi inviesity

When a teen leaves for university it’s like empty

The dog is pressed up against her door. I’m not sure if he wants to go sleep on her bed or root through the garbage she’s left in her quickly departing wake. Regardless, he’s not the only one who misses her.

Who is her?  Well, she is my eldest. My firstborn. She who has 1 1/2 wings out of the nest and is ready to fly into the rest of her life. Almost.  As long as the nest walks softly and carries a large cheque book.  One large enough to pay for university tuition, books, residence, decor, and other sundry items that may or may not be necessary.

I find myself pining for her desperately even though she’s been gone for less than a week.  I also find myself admiring the smaller piles of laundry, the ready availability of my car, and the dearth of dirty dishes in the sink.

I stare into her empty room;  empty save for the huge mess she left in her wake. A mess that I’m afraid to mention the odd time I catch her during Frosh Week (or O-Week as it’s called now to remove the stigma of expectations of crazy, I’m assuming.  Name change aside, I believe there definitely are parties and dancing and booze.)  Why am I wary of informing her that she’ll have to clean her disaster up when she visits?  Because I’m worried that she won’t visit if I make her presence unpleasant.  But, I’m also worried that she will come and depart leaving an even larger disaster in her wake.

I’m so torn.  I’m not sure if I like the fact that I have a child (really an adult) who is in University.  I’m not sure that I can get used to her not being around every day, even if she mostly stayed locked in her room sleeping or on her macbook. I actually miss waking her up for school-over and over and over.  I miss having the right to ask her personal details because you live in my house and you’re a child.  I miss dropping her off at high school and watching her be greeted by a crowd, and receiving emails from her teachers or that dreaded ‘A child in your home has missed one or more periods of class today‘ automated phone call.

I’m a bad mother because I have disloyal feelings about her absence. I’m a good mother because I want her to come home. I’m a bad mother because I didn’t really want her to go.  I’m a good mother because I want her to be independent and enjoy her experience away from home.

I’m full of dichotomy and indecision.  Do I or don’t I like the situation? I’m torn.  Will a Pros and Cons list help me understand my emotions better?

Pros of my daughter going away to university and leaving me, her mother, to despair

  • I can drive my car whenever I want
  • My car isn’t full of Tim Horton’s Wrappers
  • There is less laundry (Who uses that many towels?)
  • My clothes and shoes don’t mysteriously disappear
  • I don’t have to nag her to get up for school, or lecture her when she misses class
  • There are fewer shoes at the front door
  • She gets to have an amazing adventure
  • I don’t have to worry when she’s out with my car at night
  • Her school is 1 hour away, so I can enjoy a nice day trip now and again

Cons of my daughter going away to university and leaving me, her mother, to despair

  • She’s gone.
  • It’s hard to get ahold of her. I don’t know what she’s doing or where she’s going or who she’s talking to
  • Sometimes I don’t feel like going out and her having my car is a good excuse
  • On occasion those leftovers from Tim Horton’s definitely came in handy on busy, hungry days. No her, no leftovers
  • I can’t easily lay on her bed and bug her
  • I worry and wonder all day and all night where she is and what she’s doing
  • I don’t know when she’s not going to school
  • I can’t take care of her if she’s sick
  • She’s not here.
  • Residence fees are putting a cramp in my shopping habits
  • When I go into her room to bug her, it’s empty
  • It’s evidence that life is moving too quickly
The list was of no use. This life change is going to take getting used to.  I’m going to have to adjust as my home slowly empties and all of our lives move on to a different stage.  I know that she’ll still need me. I know that she doesn’t think she does.  I know that this is an incredible opportunity for her to stretch her independence in a semi-controlled environment.
I have to trust that I’ve given her the tools to succeed as she moves on in her life.  I’m not exactly sure if I’m ready, but I’m pretty sure she is
I’ll bet that before I blink she’s going to show up with a bag of dirty laundry and a request for banana cake and lentil soup.  Right now, that’s going to have to be enough for me.



  1. I don’t think we’re every ready for these monumental changes. Perhaps if we think of them as growth and recognize that we’ve had a hand in giving our children the tools to enable them to reach these milestones…doesn’t help does it?

  2. ugh! my 16 yo is looking at schools, next summer will be all about applications… slow down everyone, mommy needs a minute.

    Good luck, hon! I hope the distance brings you guys closer together.


  3. This made me smile. Two years ago my then 17 year old daughter left for university to attend the Bader International Study Centre in East Sussex UK. On the plane and no visit until Christmas. She got sick with mono while there and I was bereft. But what an amazing experience for her and we all lived through it. I recently posted on my blog at about when I took her back to start her third year at Queens. I called it But Still and it’s kind of a mushed pros and cons list. But it’s a whole lot easier no that it was that first September. Be gentle with yourself – you, and she, will find your way.

    • I really don’t know how you managed that! But, it was an amazing experience for her. Off to check out your post. You know, so I feel a sense of compatriotness. Also, why didn’t I get it in my inbox? I subscribe.

  4. Esther Marcus says:

    I agree that logic doesn’t help. This is ALL about feelings. The feeling that life is going too fast. The feeling that maybe, as a mom, we’re not quite as necessary anymore. The feeling that things are spinning just a little out of control. If it were logical we would all know that life is going exactly as fast as it always has, our children need us as much today as yesterday and the day before (maybe in a bit of a different way), and we’ve taught our kids well so there isn’t really any out-of-control spinning (but much somewhat controlled partying).
    To be honest, the feelings I am feeling took me by surprise. And the people that have “checked” in on me this past week have too. I wasn’t prepared to feel lost and empty, or being completely honest, downright miserable… but clearly others knew this feeling was coming.
    The good news is this… on day 5, I feel much better than I did on day 4, 3, 2 and certainly on day 1. It is that much clearer to me that my ‘loss’ is really her ‘gain’ as she embarks on what will likely be one of the single most exciting years of her life. And ultimately, come the end of April, her room will be a disgusting mess again and yes, there will be far too many shoes at the front door and a mess of dishes near the sink 🙂

  5. I guess this is the reason why my mom called me every day, sometimes 2 or 3 times a day. And I was 7 hours away from home. I am probably going to be a big mess when my kids leave for university. That’s one of the many reasons why I want to move to a town closer to an urban centre (city).

  6. Oh,Mara, I so feel your pain! Last year was my oldest’s first year at college, and as we prepare for her departure again in a couple weeks I find myself wondering how I’ll make it again this year without her around all the time. But, this year IS different because I know what to expect – both for her and for me. She has a new apartment and close friends to look forward to seeing again. And, you know what? She actually really enjoys our visits! Are rule is at least a text a day so we know she’s OK, and somehow that worked for us. Good luck to you, and I trust she will have a wonderful experience because she knows she has such an amazing supporter back home 🙂
    PS: OF COURSE I wrote a post about sending her off that first year. Here is the link if you’d like to chek it out

  7. I am in such denial about this rapidly approaching stage in my life. My eldest just began her junior year in high school, and I am terrified. For every.single. reason. you list here, Mara. But an hour away? Forget the day trip. You can drive up just to take her to lunch, if you want. 🙂 Sending love and an absolutely infuriating inability to offer comfort or help. xoxo

  8. Hmmm….I loved raising my kids but ladies, I had no issue, no ambivalence, none of this emotional sturm und drang sending my kids off to school. Right now I’m two down, one to go (though one college grad moved home and is with us while she goes to grad school….much to say about that.) In truth, I look forward to the freedom. I have a super demanding professional life and love having more of an autonomous extra-curricular life. It is great fun going to parties and films and out with friends again. And your kids frankly belong with their peers at a certain age.


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