Worried about empty nest syndrome?


It’s that time of the year again when many of us will experience our children leaving home. One minute they are starting Reception class and then they are heading off to College or University or leaving home to start work. Where did that time go? What are we to do with ourselves now? Being a parent has been a primary focus for many years. But, of course, not only caring for them but actively encouraging our children to be independent and fulfil their own lives has also been inherent to that focus. They are achieving that goal, so why do we feel so sad? Being a parent is a lot about letting go. It’s a very confusing whirlwind of emotions. The impact of the pandemic last year may have meant that many stayed home longer than expected which may have affected our transition further.

Whilst we are delighted for them, we miss being part of their daily lives, worry about them and miss caring for them and their companionship. Whilst we all know that our children will come home again, that they are happy and living their lives, and thus ‘shouldn’t’ feel this way, it is important to recognize that it is a grieving process and to support others and each other experiencing this loss.

Empty nest syndrome is not a mental health disorder but is a very real phenomenon experienced by many parents after their last child leaves home or ‘flies the nest’. If we have only one child or strongly identify in our role of parent, we may have a particularly difficult time adjusting to an empty nest. Some common symptoms include loneliness, loss of purpose, identity crisis, distress, addiction, depression and marital conflict.

Being an advocate for the ‘pancake approach’, that is to flip a situation to gain a different perspective, whilst experiencing a sense of loss, it is also possible to experience the benefits of children leaving home. First and foremost is that we have succeeded in helping our children to live independently. Given that many relationships suffer because of the devotion to children, we now have time to devote to and improve relationships with partners, family and friends by no means least, we have time to devote to ourselves, to rekindle old hobbies or start new ones.

The key to coping with empty nest syndrome is acceptance of reality, that our children are now living their own lives but that our lives will continue, they will just be different. What do we want our different life to look like? Whilst it would be easier to stay indoors with our grief, it is important to make some short term plans both personally and work related, pursue an interest, meet with people, talk about our grief whenever we feel the need to, avoid damaging crutches like drugs or alcohol and, of course, stay in regular touch with our children, making the most of all the technology which became popular during the pandemic.
It will get easier with time and what we do to develop our own lives but if the feeling doesn’t ease or depression develops, it is important to seek the help that is available.