Are you happy being an 'empty nester'
There is a strange phenomenon happening across the country; parents are waking up to peace and quiet, a full fridge and tidy lounge and wondering what has happened. Might it be that the kids have gone (back) to University? If you are one of those parents whose child has just started or returned to University, is this space and peace welcome? Of course, grown children leave home for many different reasons, not just University. It might simply be ‘the right time’ to spread their wings. Whatever the reason, are you happy being an ‘empty nester’?
For some parents, the answer will be a wholehearted yes, and relief that the job of parenting has been done well enough to see your child through to the next phase of their development and growing up. This time can give you the opportunity to focus on your needs and relationship thus making the transition an exciting one. Plans that you have been making over the past few years can now be put into place, holidays can be taken outside of the school holiday times and as a couple, rather than a family group each time.
However, if you find yourself shedding a tear when the school holidays are over (and you are not alone in this), or wondering what you’ll do to fill the spare time when the kids are away, this transition can be problematic. It may be that your spousal relationship hasn’t weathered well the last 18 years or that the children have become the ‘glue’ keeping you together and it’s hard to recognise yourself in other roles outside of the parenting role. If so, this newfound space can feel daunting and unwelcome.
Naturally, the age at which the children leave home can coincide with other changes that women in particular are experiencing such as menopause and this can intensify any negative feelings around the children leaving home.
As parents, you may find yourself looking around and wondering ‘who was I before I was interrupted by mother/fatherhood' or ‘who were we as a couple?’. Sometimes parenting can become a substitute for personal growth, with resources channeled into the children at detriment to the self or relationships. If this sounds like you, then counselling, either as a couple or individually can offer a safe and non-judgmental environment in which to explore these issues and feelings.
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About Debbie Kelly
Debbie Kelly is an experienced counsellor supporting clients through life changes and transitions. Debbie works in private practice in Basingstoke and Alton, Hampshire.