Preparing for the empty nest


We’ve all heard of empty-nest syndrome, which although not clinically recognised is a very real and upsetting condition for many parents when their children leave home and embark on their own lives as young adults. But do we ever really stop worrying as parents and how can we prevent ourselves from being overtaken with a profound sense of loss when our children leave the family home?

Parents of boisterous younger children might naturally long for the inevitable peace and recovery of later life, but generally all devoted and loving parents choose not to think about that time too much and the effects on themselves, preferring to focus on this week, this month and all that needs to be done. Indeed, most of us are far too busy worrying about this particular stage of our children’s lives to think about five or more years down the line. 

However, should we be considering this crucial stage and its impact on our own sense of purpose and self-worth? The amount of emotional and physical energy we put into bringing up our children is considerable, so perhaps we should be thinking more about what happens when we have nowhere to put that energy. In turn we can then allow our children to get on with their lives whilst getting on with our own. 

Many people find work and hobbies and new interests to fill the time and many continue to flap and fuss around their unresponsive and increasingly distant twenty-something children for want of retaining the feeling of being needed. Are we trapped in a culture of ignoring the cycle of family life and the inevitable departure of our children - or is this something else, a more primeval sense of purpose, that cannot be fixed? Unsurprisingly, research shows that empty-nest syndrome is worse for those stay-at-home parents or those who have suffered difficulties or hardships whilst bringing up their children. However, whatever the conditions of our lives are, we can protect ourselves from the loneliness of this stage of life by preparing to fill the void sooner rather than later. 

With ever-pressing work and family commitments, many of us struggle to find time to see friends or extended family while our children are young. Half-hearted texts are exchanged with plans to meet up, but life gets in the way. Psychology Today advises developing those interests and friendships before the nest is empty, in the hope you are preventing yourself from staring at an empty laundry basket and wishing it was full again. ‘Develop friendships, hobbies, career and educational opportunities. Make plans with the family and make specific plans for the extra money, time, and space that will become available when children are no longer dependent on you and living at home.’

Wise words, but none the less many of us will find ourselves welcoming back with vigour and delight the noise and chaos of visits from our grown-up children, especially at this time of year.