Parents' Guide: Support From Afar

Carol and Shan Gallagher have four children and live in rural North Yorkshire. Sarah, 21, their eldest, will begin her final year of a media studies degree at Napier University, Edinburgh; Rebecca, a year younger, is studying food science at the University of Nottingham. Joe and Emily are still at school

Carol said: "When they leave for university they are still your children, but when they come back they are adults and they have opinions. You find yourself having to live with two more adults in the house who will readily tell you what they think of you and ask you why you do things the way you do. But I think it's good that they criticise when they come home - it means they're growing up

"It was a big change from being a family of six to four. In some ways it's better for the other two - it means we can give them a bit more attention. It can be good fun at times when the girls do come home; we have a laugh and get the village gossip from a different angle.

"We both thought that our days at college were the best time we had and we wanted our children to go to university because of that. It gives them breathing space, being able to grow up without the responsibility of being an adult.

The girls each get a monthly allowance from their parents, but their father is clear that there are no strings attached.

He said: "None of it is anything to do with us any more. We don't even know their exam results. We would like to know but they don't tell us and we don't ask. We encourage and support from a distance but we do have to let them make mistakes. However, we did once persuade Rebecca that bungee jumping from the Clifton suspension bridge was not a good idea."

Shan and Carol checked out security when their daughters first moved in to student residence, and "made several trips to Ikea" buying things to help out, such as sets of pans. Worried that Rebecca seemed to be living on nothing but toast, they once bought her a sack of potatoes "which she seemed to think was a good idea".

Shan bought an estate car to help the girls ferry home every last item of personal belongings that have to be turfed out of halls each holiday - even a fridge which is now housed under the family stairs.

Sarah has been coming home every fortnight since she started university, Rebecca confines home visits to the holidays "and isn't very good at ringing in-between". Rebecca is adamant that she is not coming home at the end of her degree and her parents support her in that. Shan said: "There is no work here. This is the sort of place you settle when you have done everything else." However, they realise there may be a time when their daughters are back applying for jobs, a phase that could prove particularly tricky.

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