Personally, my mum is my best friend. She’s the one person in the whole world who I feel I can entirely trust. Someone I know will be there for me through thick and thin. My dad, well…. he’s an enigma. How can one man have so much sense, so much wit, and so much determination? I could not wish for anything different in either of my parents. They are my inspiration, the driving force behind me. Therefore, there is absolutely no way that university could possibly change my relationship with either of them. Yet, being a female fresher who has the coolest parents in the world, maybe this is expected. What I wanted to find out was whether this is the case for all students? Does it vary depending on sex, what year you are in, or your previous relationship with them? All these questions intrigued me, so I underwent a mission to find out…

Originally, I believed that the relationship between girls and their parents would not change at University, and that it was the boys who tend to grow away. As says the famous saying ‘A daughter’s a daughter for all of her life. A son’s a son until he finds a wife’ – but all around me, I see so much evidence to the contrary. My male cousin speaks to his mum on the phone daily, asking questions such as, “My yogurt is out of date, but I’ve eaten it. What should I do?” My own brother often sends my mum a text telling her how much he misses home-cooked food or cups of tea in the morning. It’s wrong to believe that the male sex is less dependent on their parents. When I asked my brother what it was that made him want to speak to our mum daily, he replied, “Well…she’s a part of me, isn’t she?”  Shocked as I was, I could not let the case rest and decided to observe females instead. My best friend, Nicola, told me that she could not be happier to be away from her parents, saying somewhat bluntly, “If I’m a ball, then they’re my chain. University was the hammer that got me free.” So, if it isn’t gender that decides how our relationships with our parents change whilst at university then what is it?

I went on to investigate the relationships freshers had with their parents, as opposed to second and third years. Again, my Sherlock-esque  detective skills were needed here; surely, first years are desperate for some parental affection, and the third years are used to the distance. Apparently not! When interviewing twenty-five students from Broadgate Park, I gave them the choice between “I want my parents to be there when I want food, money or Christmas presents, but the rest of the time I want my space” or “I really look forward to having a cuddle from my mum, and a play-fight with my dad. University is great but I do miss my parents” – twenty-three students chose the first option. Even more surprisingly, the two who chose the second option were male. I then emailed a close family friend, Georgina, who is a third year at the University of Manchester. My question to her was “What’s better: university life or home life?” Her response surprised me, but rang true: “I’d always choose home life; no stress of deadlines, no worries of when the next meal is coming, or why my laundry basket stinks, and no hassle to go out when all I want to do is curl up in a ball on the sofa with my mum and dog and watch The Notebook”. By this point, I was nowhere near cracking the mystery, and it seemed I was at the end of the road.

Just as I believed there was no longer any hope in completing my ‘mission impossible’, my mum said to me, “I’m glad we got on well before you went away”. That was it! Like a duck that was thrown into water, I knew I had found my answer. University affects parent-children relationship depending on their previous background. To double check that I had found my answer, I called on my close friend, Sean, who studies at the University of Cardiff to find out more. He told me, “My parents were so strict; I had a bedtime, a work time, and teatime. It was horrible. When I got to university it was like the start of MY life. I vowed from that day on that I would live the way I wanted. Of course, this has distanced me from my parents, but its time my younger sister took on the responsibilities that I had.”  Comparing this to my own circumstances, I couldn’t get on better with my parents, and since being at University I feel even closer to them. I appreciate them even more, if that is possible.

So there we go! Mission solved. It isn’t the gender divide, or the year divide that explains why some students become distant from their parents at university. It is simply based on previous relationships with them. If you get on with them when they’re constantly around, then you’re bound to get on with them when you’re away. But if you can’t stand them when you live in their shoes, then getting away is your prison break. Holmes, Watson, Tom Cruise, our mission is complete. Over and out.

Jennifer Chattaway

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  1. VanessaBrown
    February 17, 2011 at 15:45 — Reply

    Brilliant article although I don’t think that I would have chosen either option because none of them apply to my relationship with my parents!

    A few things I’d add from my experience: 1) Another thing to remember is the whole “love vs like” scenario. I love my parents to bits but do I “like” them I’m not so sure lol. 2) That said, things aren’t always straight forward. For example, my relationship with both of my parents has definitely improved since I went to uni and I literally think it’s because they began to appreciate ME more because I’m not always there in their faces so they miss me. 3) I think that now that I’m older (a 3rd year) the parent-child binary is not enforced so my parents treat me with more mutual respect which means that I can live my own life whether I’m at uni or at home.

    A final thing to remember is that for some students “home life” is more stressful than “uni life” for varying reasons such as divorce, parental expectations/rules, parental debt, and many other general family problems. So, even if they get on really well with their parents they may still find living at home stressful.

  2. Joseph Todd
    March 4, 2011 at 19:03 — Reply

    I’m sorry but this article is ridiculous. First off the conclusion is obvious, if you got on with your parents well before uni you are going to miss them more than people who didn’t – no shit. Secondly the article is pitched as a “study” but then you conclude, declaring the “mystery solved”, by basing it solely upon your “friend sean” – what a fantastic cross section of the student populous. Finally – one needs to question/investigate what constitutes conducive relationships between parents/children (as this is so obviously the factor in determining whether the student will miss their home life). Child rearing technique, whether you pitch yourself as their authoritative parent or as more of a friend, is very important. This (from my experience) seems to be linked inextricably with class – richer parents tend follow older social stereotypes upon parenting whilst ones with less money tend not to. This is all very tenuous however – there are a myriad of factors that contribute.
    Either way, silly article x

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