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Empty Nest Syndrome

Mon 9th Sep 2019

Empty Nest Syndrome
Empty Nest Syndrome

This is the time of year when many parents face what has become known as ‘empty nest syndrome’ – when their children leave home to go to university or out into the world of work. Empty nest syndrome is not a clinical diagnosis but a natural occurrence when parents experience feelings of loss and sadness as their fledglings ‘fly away’.

Of course most parents, when the time is right, want their children to head out into the wide world and lead independent and happy lives. But saying that goodbye can be tough, and suddenly finding yourself alone in a quiet house without the noise and bustle of lively youngsters can be a real shock to the system. You will undoubtedly have encouraged your children to be self-sufficient, but when it actually comes to letting go it can still be painful.

The empty nest syndrome is quite normal for parents when their children depart, instilling feelings of grief and loneliness at the absence of a child. Some get very anxious and often become sad and tearful – and, in certain cases, develop depression. This is often a good time to think about seeking professional counselling as it can be beneficial to talk through how you are feeling.

Often parents will fret about the general welfare, and safety, of their offspring. This is quite normal and they should not feel uncomfortable about having these feelings – after all, they have nurtured their sons and daughters and been with them since the moment they were born. This is a natural process in life.

These feelings are often harder for those stay-at-home parents, who have given up a career to dedicate their life to bringing up their children. Feelings of inadequacy with this big hole in their lives can follow, and the days may seem long and empty and devoid of meaning. If parents have been at home nurturing their children full time some may suffer from a loss of identity - because looking after their children was what essentially defined them.

Women tend to suffer most from empty nest syndrome because more often than they are the main care providers: but it doesn’t mean fathers are not affected as well. Often couples who have a difficult relationship will find this is a time when things could get worse.

Instead of worrying, now could be a good time to think of this as a new beginning for yourself, to grasp the opportunity to do things you could not have done when your children were living at home. You might just experience a real sense of freedom which can be very liberating.

In this technological age it is very easy to stay in touch with your children, whether by text, phone or Skype. Remember too, that many of your friends whose children have also left home might be experiencing the same feelings as yourself – and it can be fulfilling to help to support each other.

Sometimes parents feel that when the children depart it is time to make big changes like moving away and selling the home. But it is probably wise to leave those life-changing decisions for several months until you have got used to your different circumstances. You might well regret making important decisions at a time when you are feeling low.

Importantly, do pleasurable things for yourself, whether it is taking long country walks, going to the movies, cooking delicious meals or just sitting quietly reading a book. Consider all the positive possibilities the future offers in your changed situation. And reflect on how your children are successfully making their way in the world and following their own dreams.