Empty Nest Syndrome and How to Deal With It

When the chicks have flown the nest ….

As a mum of two young adults, ‘empty nest syndrome’ is something I have personal experience of… One of my ‘children’ has just finished university and is starting his first proper job away from home and very soon his sister will be studying in a city two hours away. It’s a time of confusing emotions – pride, happiness, worry and loss. We all want the best for our kids and want them to have the best experiences that they possibly can. We also know that parenting is about bringing up our children to be self-reliant, happy, caring adults … from the minute they are born, you are teaching them the skills of independence and resilience.  So why is dropping them off at uni so hard? Because it really is! Whether it’s your first child, your last child or your only one, there’s no doubt that this really is an emotional challenge.

The day to day, practical, hands on, job of being a parenthood is a lengthy one – for 18 years or more, being a parent gives your life a particular structure, a sense of being needed and, for many, a meaning, which supersedes and eclipses (in terms of emotional significance) most other areas of life.  In short, parenthood, with all its challenges, stresses and pressure, is still the most amazing job you’ll ever have.  No wonder then, when children leave to start uni or to get a job away from home, parents usually experience sadness and loss.  Just as children are learning to adjust to their new-found independence, parents are adjusting too. 

When my son went to university, I worried that it would change our relationship in a negative way – actually what I have discovered is that, older ‘children’ still need you, albeit in a different way.  I’ve also realised the joys of being able to relate to your children on a different level – the dynamics change over time until you suddenly realise that your children are actually your friends and that’s a lovely feeling.

Of course, it can be difficult on a personal level – losing a sense of who you are and having to re-connect with your partner romantically, instead of simply being ‘mum and dad’ can be challenging.  It’s a huge transition, which may coincide with other transitions, such as the menopause for women, a reminder that your fertile years are over, which can feel like a loss in itself.

So how can you cope with Empty Nest Syndrome?

  • Anticipate the loss before it happens.  Your children may be the most important part of your life but make sure you also have your own hobbies and interests too.  Take some time for yourself to do something that you enjoy.
  • If you have a partner, remember that your relationship is not just about being parents to your children.  Marriages can be tested when children leave home, so try to keep things alive in your relationship.
  • Keep in touch with your children while they are away – this is so much easier nowadays, with texting, mobile phones and social media. 
  • Try to keep things in proportion – instead of catastrophising that your relationship is over (it isn’t!), focus on the positive changes that may occur for you and your children – both apart and together.
  • Talk to someone if you feel overwhelmed by emotion.  There isn’t any shame in admitting that you need help.

Good luck!