Coping with empty-nest syndrome

When a child leaves home, whether to attend University, boarding school or simply grown-up children moving out to start their independent lives, it can be a difficult time for parents. Whilst for children this time is filled with excitement and anticipation for a new-beginning, parents left with an empty-nest can find the transition extremely testing, as they too are expected to start a new chapter in their lives.

Empty nest syndrome can be defined as a phenomenon which consumes and overwhelms parents when a child moves away from home. Though parents often spend the first 18 years of parenthood actively encouraging children to become strong and independent human beings, the experience of letting go can be a painful one.

Many parents feel like much of their lives has been defined by parenthood, so it’s understandable that such a huge shift in everyday life can leave parents feeling lacklustre. Fatmata Kamara, Specialist Nurse Adviser from Bupa UK explains After years of nurturing them and encouraging their independence, letting your children go can be difficult for some parents to deal with. Research has shown that the profound shift in mood that can happen as a result of a child’s departure can leave parents feeling lost, sad and more vulnerable to developing conditions like depression and alcoholism.”

Dealing with the newfound quietness of a less occupied home can affect parents and siblings alike, so it’s important to find positive ways to deal with the feelings associated with this change.  Children’s bedroom specialists, Room to Grow, outline their top tips for coping with empty nest syndrome.

  • Set a communication schedule

For many parents, the lack of communication can make resisting the urge to text and call at all times of the day difficult. To avoid this, set up a schedule that allows allotted times to speak, whether that’s three days a week or at specific points throughout the day. Setting a schedule should prevent any additional strain on the newfound dynamic within the parent and child relationship.

  • Set new goals

Whether in your personal or professional life, setting a new goal is a fantastic way of easing the burden off loss. It could be as simple as taking up a new hobby, anything from cake decorating to cycling, or setting yourself a huge challenge like training to run a marathon. Setting a new goal can maintain independence as well as evoking a sense of achievement!

  • Invest in relationships

Though the emotions associated with empty nest syndrome can be challenging, this time in life offers a great opportunity to invest in other relationships and friendships that may well have taken a backseat throughout the midst of parenthood. For many parents, learning to enjoy time as a couple again can have huge positive effects on wellbeing.

As difficult as going through this time period can be, having the ability to acknowledge these feelings and the circumstances surrounding them can often bring a new lease of life to parents that they may well have felt disappeared early into their parenting journey. Early Childhood Expert Jane Evans suggests that whilst a testing time at first, parents can often come out of the other side of empty nest syndrome with a new sense of what is defined as “normal” for them, as well as revived contentment and excitement for life. She says “Allowing yourself to feel what you feel is so important as it helps the emotions pass through more easily. It might be a foundation for realising and acting on the need to build new relationships, for example by joining a choir, a yoga class or a walking group. All these activities bring connections which is good for emotional and mental health.”

Time apart from a child can also have a hugely positive impact on the overall relationship between child and parent. Jane goes on to further explain “Empty nest space gives times to reflect on your relationship with your child and the parts you might now see need more or different kinds of nurturing.”