The Three Words No Parent of Teens Wants to Receive Via Text

“I need help.”

This is the message you dread receiving from your first year college student.

This is the message that makes your heart stop.

Especially when she’s a twelve hour flight away.

Cape Town University seemed like such a good idea at the time. We lived in Johannesburg for three years as part of our former expat life and loved the sunny South African skies and friendly people.

When the time to choose a college rolled around, my daughter stated without hesitation, “Mum I’ve spent ten years in the UK and I’m done.”

Three words no parent wants to receive via text
ImYanis/ Shutterstock

Secretly, I was delighted. I have wanderlust in my veins and I was thrilled she was up for an adventure that would also look amazing on her CV.

Cape Town University (UCT) ticked all the right boxes. Great lifestyle, great course and the international vibe she loves. With only a 1 or 2 hour time difference there’s no jet lag, and it’s a lot more fun to visit than any UK university.

The only downside was the distance, but hell, we’d been global travelers for so long we decided it wouldn’t be a problem and gave the green light to her dreams.

As D (Departure) Day loomed, the distance hit home. I wouldn’t be able to jump in the car and get to her if things went wrong. I wouldn’t be able to do much at all.

Being powerless as a mother sucks.

Like any great pioneer of possibility, I put her on the plane anyway. And promptly went home to cry. The first semester was full of the usual worries – would she settle, would she like her course and be safe?  While South Africa is not the crime capital the media would have you believe, once you add in the unfamiliarity of a new home, living independently and the drink and drug offerings of fresher’s week, for any student, there’s a lot at stake.

Still UCT bundled her in cotton wool, along with the other newbies, and ensured that every call home was full of smiles and new friends.

When she arrived back to our UK summer (yes we actually had one this year) for her winter break, she announced her adulthood.

Every suggestion of mine was met with:

“Mum, I live twelve hours away and I don’t need your help.”

“Mum, stop treating me like a child. I don’t live at home anymore.”

And even, “OMG I can’t wait to get back to Uni!”


I bit my lip and let it slide. Navigating her newfound feminism and social conscience wasn’t always easy and putting her back on the plane for her second semester was a mix of sorrow and relief.

At heart she was still my baby, but it was time for me to let go.  Then three days later, the text.

“I need help.”

My heart rate goes from zero to sixty in a nanosecond but everything else slows down. I check the time of the message – two minutes ago – how did I miss it? I gather my passport, wallet and car keys while typing back:

“what’s happened? where r u? r u ok?”

I move into multi-tasking mum mode, putting on shoes and locking doors. Trying to work out if it’s quicker to wait for the direct night flight or leave now and connect through Europe. Dropping everything because my child is in danger.

Twelve hours away feels like a lifetime.

Guilt. Dread. Possibly the beginnings of a heart attack.

So many questions! Surely I would have felt something if she was threatened? Where the hell was my gut instinct?

I stare at my phone, willing her to reply.

And then my phone pings:

“I can’t decide if I should drop sociology and do psychology.”

A sound erupts from my lips.

Incredulous laughter and relief.

My fears unfounded.

College, global travel and adventure are wonderful opportunities for our kids but sometimes they cause the elastic that binds them to our hearts, to stretch a little too far. Our offspring are oblivious that we snap back into “I’d die for you, right here, right now, because I love you so much” in one single heartbeat.

I start typing – I WAS WORRIED SICK – and then delete it and focus on breathing.

If it was healthy for me to have this much adrenaline coursing through my body I’d drink coffee.

I realize college is a journey for me as well as her and, “Parenting A College Student, Class 101” has just been completed. Key learning – she is ok, she will be ok and if I want to avoid a heart attack I need to focus less on saving her from imaginary disaster, and more on self-preservation.

I type, “Trust your instincts,” wishing it were that easy for me.


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Jacqueline Escolme is a former globetrotter, who spent way too long rebuilding herself from serious illness and now writes on Sassy Self-Preservation and Transformation for Women. Find her at and follow her on Insta

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