Feeling the Empty Nest?

Feeling the Empty Nest?

Feel a little bit like you have an empty nest? It’s that time of year, sending your children off to university or college is a big life changing time and whilst you’ll be feeling excited, at the same time, it is also a bittersweet moment in a family life. Even though we know it will happen eventually. You just don’t want it to happen yet. Getting through this turning point with positivity might be difficult for you and for them, but it is so important to manage the transition well.

Your children are about to start off on a new journey; something that they may have wanted for a while. A chance to grow, be independent and live their life their way. Chatting about the opportunity, sharing your own experiences, letting them know how proud you are of their achievements and how confident you are they will do well, is crucial.

It doesn’t help you, or them, to constantly share, or even joke about how your life is over and how terrible you feel at them leaving! They need to know that you’ll survive and grow too. Helping them get a real sense of self and the courage they need to succeed, is absolutely your job. Making them feel guilty about moving on, isn’t. At the same time, helping them see that home will always be home is a given, but you can still support them to move on and grow.

And don’t forget the opportunity to pass on some really practical tips in the weeks leading up to the big day. Serious tips and wise advice are often listened to in the short exciting days just before leaving home. No matter how excited our young people are about leaving home, the weeks before they will be anxious too.

But remember you have been here before; first day at primary school, first day at junior school and moving to a new secondary school, were all times of anxiety for you and for them and you got through them as a family. This time, the change is really impacting you as much as them and the impact of the change is all the more keen.

Being calm and happy will help your child through the transition to Uni. It will probably help you in the long run too. The more that you practice being calm and happy, the more likely you are to be so. Fake it till you make it!

Occasional trips home after the first few months in university can help student children to become more accustomed to their time managing any homesickness. Don’t rush to their aid at the first call home, but the odd trip for a weekend can do wonders for both you and them.

Preparing a homemade parcel will give you something to focus on in the weeks leading up to the day. Put your creative mind to work and have fun baking cakes, shopping, making up emergency first aid kits, stationery kits or other useful things they would normally only find at home. Get your other children and family members involved too…don’t forget they are losing a sibling and may be worried and hurting too.

Agree staying in touch arrangements – how often, when. Have a plan that assures you and means that you know they're safe but they don’t feel under pressure. Some parents like to talk to their children every weekend, others do it every few days, and some, every other week. Have an agreement – just enough contact to maintain a healthy balance for you and them.

When your young people have finally moved out, no doubt it will feel really tough. You may feel a little abandoned and strangely a little out of control and sad. Even with a partner and children at home, it can feel a lonely time. This is such a human response and so natural and common. It’s a well-documented phenomenon known as empty nest syndrome and it is important that you know that you are not the only person who experiences the same feelings. The most important thing that you need to do is stay healthy. Don’t stay inside and feeling sad. Continuing with your everyday activities is important and making arrangements to do things to keep you busy in the early days is crucial.

Empty nest syndrome is defined as the feeling that parents develop when their children no long live at home. This can happen when they decide to live on their own but happens most often when children grow up and head off to Uni or college.

Symptoms include:

  • Depression
  • A loss of purpose
  • Feeling rejected
  • Anxiety and worry

Sometimes empty nest syndrome can develop as soon as the last hug is given as you wave them off. At other times, it may take a few days or even a few weeks to develop. It is different for every parent and it also depends on the previous living situation and other factors, such as siblings at home.

At first a lot of parents feel like they will never get over empty nest syndrome but it is completely possible. It is just another stage in life to grow through and overcome. Take a look at some of the things you can do and considerations for when you start to feel empty nest syndrome coming on.

If you have another child at home it is important that you understand there will be a gap for them too. Often siblings can’t anticipate the change that is coming until it happens and their brother or sister has already headed off to college. Getting them involved so they can see where their sibling is heading may help. It might be hard to imagine but they might feel the absence of their sibling more than you do. Make sure to talk with them and try to keep their life as normal as possible, but add something special for them too to do in that big, life changing week.

At the same time, even if you do have a child still at home, chances are your time will start to free up and you will have gaps that need to be filled. Here are some tips on what to do once your children have left home.

Finding a hobby is a great way to start making the pain of children going off to university ebb. Don’t just take up a hobby all by yourself though. Maybe involve the family?

Regular dinners with your partner can also help to keep the sense of family. Try to schedule these dinners so that they happen regularly. Want to make the experience even more enjoyable? Make something different each week and make it together. By cooking it together you have more time to talk and more time to enjoy yourselves.

If you aren’t already working it might be time for you to either look for a new role. A new job not only has the benefit of income but can give you a renewed sense of purpose. While everything suggested requires time, part of the joy of your child leaving home is the spare time you may now have. Make the most of it and show them how you are tackling this change with positivity.

Making the rest of your life, the best years, requires you to focus on your new goals. Living a happy and successful life while your children are at Uni means you are doing the best thing a parent can do: role modelling extreme positivity when you may feel at your worst! Show them how to do it and really embrace your new-found freedom and opportunity.

This is one more step in life’s journey for them and for you. You will always play an important part in their life and realizing that is so important, but don’t dwell on it. The way in which you help them fly the nest will be remembered by them for a long time, make it the very best experience for you and for them.

Sally is the Founder of LifeBuddy. She is an Organisational Development consultant and is a Practitioner with the Association for Business Psychology.