Tips on coping with ‘The Empty Nest’
Written by listed counsellor/psychotherapist: Shireen Rehman. BCom, Cert Counselling, Dip Counselling, MBACP
22nd May, 20140 Comments
Over the years I have heard much about the proverbial, ‘empty nest’ and the feelings and emotions surrounding it, but not until recently when experienced it myself, did I appreciate the minefield of issues surrounding the moving out of a child from the family home.
Empty nest or empty nest syndrome is the name given to the grief, depression and general feeling of loneliness etc that the parents/guardians/carers feel on the moving out of a child or a dependant, from the family home. Like the young birds leaving the nest as soon as they are able to fly and fend for themselves.
‘Empty nest syndrome is a feeling of loneliness or depression that occurs among parents after their children grow up and leave home.’ …(Psychology Today)
‘Empty Nest Syndrome is not a term you'll find in many medical text books, but it has become a useful ‘label’ for the feelings of sadness and loss, which many individuals experience when their children fly the nest.’…(Christine Webber).
‘Empty-nest syndrome is the name given to the constellation of feelings many parents have when their last or only child leaves home, and they no longer have a baby “chick” in their nest.’….(TODAY Parenting)
Young adults leaving home and setting up home elsewhere is such a necessary part of growing up in our society that generally, the feelings and emotions surrounding it are tended to be overlooked or trivialised. Another expectation parents often face is that it is a time to celebrate and rejoice rather than feel emotional thus making them feel guilty and selfish at their reaction. For some parents it’s not only dealing with separation and loss of the child but also dealing with a loss of purpose. Especially for some mothers who have been homemakers all their lives this can be a particularly traumatic event, not only do they have to let go of their child but also what defined them, gave their life meaning.
Generally it is understood that women find the ‘empty nest’ more traumatic then men, one of the reason could be that a child leaving home usually coincides with the mother reaching her menopause and the loss of her child and the loss of her ability to have more children can be particularly devastating. After having spent at least two decades as a parent, it is only reasonable to expect that this change will prove difficult. You might experience the following symptoms: sadness, fear in what your role in life is now, major adjustments in what you do each day, how you view yourself, and how your marriage functions.
Although you might actively encourage your children to become independent, the experience of letting go can be painful. You might find it difficult to suddenly have no children at home who need your care. You might miss being a part of your children's daily lives — as well as the constant companionship. You might also worry intensely about your children's safety and whether they'll be able to take care of themselves on their own. You might struggle with the transition if your last child leaves the nest a little earlier or later than you expected — or at a time different from when you did. If you have only one child or strongly identify with your role as parent, you might have a particularly difficult time adjusting to an empty nest
An article that approached the ‘empty nest’ issue from another angle interestingly discussed the feelings of loss and insecurity that arises due to the loss of control that a parent faces. The change of role so to speak, you are no longer an active player in your child’s life but merely a spectator now.
However, recent studies suggest that an empty nest can also provide parents with many benefits. When the last child leaves home, parents have a new opportunity to reconnect with each other, improve the quality of their marriage and rekindle interests for which they previously might not have had time.
Some tips on coping with ‘The Empty Nest’
- Accept the timing. Avoid comparing your child's timetable to your own personal experience. Instead, focus on what you can do to help your child succeed when he or she does leave home.
- Keep in touch. You can continue to be close to your children even when you live apart. Make an effort to maintain regular contact through visits, phone calls, emails, texts or video chats.
- Seek support. If you're having a difficult time dealing with an empty nest, lean on loved ones and other close contacts for support. Share your feelings. If you feel depressed, consult your doctor or a mental health provider.
- Stay positive. Thinking about the extra time and energy you might have to devote to your marriage or personal interests after your last child leaves home might help you adapt to this major life change.
In my case I think the emotions were very mixed. Part of me felt really proud that my husband and I had a raised a confident and capable young man ready to face life and the challenges that it may bring yet a part of me felt desperately sad and full of grief. The key that helped me move on was ‘acceptance’; the acceptance of this new phase of my life, acceptance to be with the ‘not knowing’, accepting and trusting this new process and truly learning to let go.
Related articles from our experts
- Coping with life transitions and their impact on relationships
The Spark Counselling (West)13th February, 2017
- Parenting through the early years of adolescence
Jen Warwick MBACP Reg, Grad Dip (Counselling), Grad Dip (Psychology)12th February, 2017
- How can I have a mental health difficulty if I had the perfect childhood?
Dr Alexander Hektorsson (Chartered Psychologist)9th February, 2017
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