There are a number of Universities that have taken on the mentoring/networking idea of “family” within their student populations. However, I think it is fair to say that St Andrews does it differently. For those who don’t know there are a number of traditions that keep the fun alive and even for alumni, memories are built and held for years after graduation. Some of those traditions include:
- As a Fresher (first year student) you must ask your mother to be your mother. Your father asks you to be their son/daughter/child.
- You gain siblings by meeting the often numerous adoptees, and these can be amazingly awesome people.
- Academic incest (relationships between “family members”) are seen as bad…ish and you must jump off the pier in order to make up for your sin.
- Raisin Weekend is when all chaos is released and tends to include much alcohol and embarrassment: mothers dress their children up and send them to their fathers to be given a gift, before children are paraded to the Quad to have a foam fight.
If this makes no sense to you, that’s fine, but you’re missing out. What is amazing is that Academic Families and Raisin, despite being recognised as a tradition by the University, are completely student-led. There have been attempts to ban it in the past but nothing stuck, and so now they tend to suggest safety boundaries and the police attempt to stop people getting killed.
What’s my point in reminiscing about my old student days? Well, I had 5 amazing children, and a number of incredible family members, some of which I am still in touch with, and the rest I miss. They taught me a lot about people but hilariously far more about real parenthood than I expected.
The truth is that I did tend to mother people; I was nicknamed Mama Regs by my second year in my hall of residence, and Mama stuck when I adopted kids as a third year. It will probably be the name I continue to use when Cub appears. My door was always open, literally, and I would often wander in to find someone needing a chat, or just having some time out in a place they knew they were welcome. It wasn’t hard because they were (and are) pretty easy to love to bits. Anyway, here are some amusing things I learnt through having an academic family:
- Children don’t often assume parents should have a choice in producing or declining another child/sibling. Conversations I’ve had have included questions like “Go and ask our father whether he’s had another child yet?” and “Can you find me a father/mother/parent?” and “But I don’t want another brother! I like our family!”. This can make for very funny moments but honestly many real-life parents have probably been asked for a sibling or asked when their new baby brother/sister is going back. It can be an awkward conversation to have, especially in company, but are always funny to look back on.
- You will likely, at one point or another, put your child to bed, all tucked up, only to have to soothe them back to sleep in the early hours of the morning. In students days this did mean wrapping one of my dear daughters up on a sofa after a full-night’s essay writing, and then walking her back to her room at about 3am. It was adorable, but for real parents I can imagine it gets old quickly.
- Innocence is a precious thing and can often cause some very confused looks on your child’s face alongside some slightly disturbing questions which you were probably not ready to answer. The truth is that it is probably best to leave as much of that innocence intact for as long as possible – they don’t reeeeeally NEED to know what ejaculation means in order to pass their exams… right? I have been told many times of my own baby/toddler escapades of pulling nursing tops down in public and asking inappropriate questions. It’s better to just giggle and move on.
- You will love them and be proud of them in far more ways than you ever expected to, and they will often need to hear that. It can be tough going through university, and a huge benefit of families is the support network intended to help. Whether it be simply providing chocolate, a shoulder to cry on, or just a simple piece of advice about the library system, it is important. In the same way, children need encouragement and love as they grow – the best parents provide plenty of both.
- It is part of parenthood that you will embarrass your child (whether on purpose or unintentionally). It is important to know the boundaries of your child. My kids were awesome and happily ran around town getting covered in flour, asking people strange questions, pretending to give birth, etc but I know other students who were drunk and taken advantage of in some really awful ways. There is also the sad times where practical jokes end up not that funny – it’s about knowing your kids to avoid traumatising them.
- At some point you will need to let go. There was definitely a time in my student life where I realised that my kids were just very busy, and that trying to get them all together for ice cream was increasingly difficult. I would miss them hugely but had to accept they were busy too, were adopting their own kids and getting on with their degrees – just as they should. Try to take peace with that change or you might cry.
- Enjoy the company of other parents. One of the best memories I have is appearing at my husbands’ (plural guys who were the fathers of 4/5 of my children) houseparty, sending the children off on a crazy treasure hunt around the town and having a mini-rave in the meantime. It was hilarious and as soon as they arrived back, lights went on and the entertaining-the-kids part of the evening continued. I did nod out shortly after midnight and they went on to blow up a number of helium balloons until the morning. Sharing in those parenting moments was great and something many real parents would recommend too.
- You will get crazy protective, and if someone hurts them you will be crazy mad. This is both from my experience as Mama Regs and an Academic Mama: when someone hurts someone you care about you want to scream at them, give them a slap and question any future friend/partner/delivery guy about whether they are good enough. Try to control the rage and just support your loved one – it’s better that way.
So, this all sounds crazy but honestly I do feel I learnt a lot about the kind of things that parents do. Whether this will help me in the coming years I have no idea, but I hope I end up having just as much fun and feeling just as much love as I did for my academic kids and family!