Parents' Guide: Quietude grows on you

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The Independent Online
Maureen O'Connor is an education journalist who has written seven crime novels under the name 'Patricia Hall' since her elder son went to university

"THE THING that is really difficult to get used to is the silence. Just as Jack Straw wanted a tune by The Verve on his "desert island" to remind him of the kids, I found myself wondering why the drum and bass favoured by my younger son had suddenly stopped reverberating through the walls and ceilings. And on Friday and Saturday nights, we actually missed the faint scrabbling in the kitchen when he came in late and went to get a drink before bed. Peace and quiet sounds idyllic and in many ways it is. But it takes some getting used to.

"Losing your kids to higher education is a rite of passage, though I suspect it is less traumatic for modern mothers than it was for mine. When my youngest sister went away my mother, who had never worked outside the home, felt bereaved. These days working mothers appreciate a diminution in the pressure and may find little difficulty in filling in the time: perhaps a full-time job instead of a part-time one, or more scope for a fulfilling social life than when the house was full of demanding teenagers; perhaps even the chance to renew acquaintance with the other half of your marriage.

"Not that the chance to worry about the kids is removed, of course. Parents seem to be going to some lengths to make sure the calls keep coming, from paying for a mobile to providing a reverse-charge facility. Not that any of these expedients necessarily works. We had one son who called home regularly, a second who only bothers when he's broke.

"And you need to watch those phone calls. It's easy to fall in to nagging if you're not careful: are they eating properly, getting to bed on time, coping with their academic work, avoiding unplanned parenthood, keeping warm, dry, sober and un-stoned? The answer you get to most of the questions will be 'yes', of course. And you know that sometimes they'll be lying! The art is in knowing just when.

"It takes some self-discipline - and probably the odd telephonic row - to accept that these are their problems now and that if they are ever going to grow up they just have to learn to meet their own deadlines, pay their own bills and make their own mistakes. But you'll find that you'll still lie in bed worrying about them, however often they reassure you that they're fine.

"Of course the one problem which they will not hesitate to call on you to solve is the financial one. They seem to assume that heat, light, food and the phone service fall miraculously like manna from heaven and that their income is solely for having a good time. The sooner they learn otherwise the better. But there will be few families with student children who have not had to bail them out before the end of the academic year. It's part of the price you pay for that peace and quiet which - believe me - you will come to enjoy."

Study Essentials

Personal Computer

If you can afford it. It may double output (or halve studying time). If possible, make the computer a laptop.

Portable television

Sandwich toaster

The larger ones can be used to cook full fried breakfasts.

Personal stereo

Money

As much as possible

Comprehensive hangover cure

Among the best (and lesser known) cures is the emergency rehydration mixture for travellers sold by Boots. Mix with an effervescent vitamin C tablet and Alka-Seltzer. Dissolve the mixture in a large tumbler of Lucozade rather than water (glucose settles the stomach)

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