Life in the empty nest

Life in the empty nest

Zelda West-Meads, agony aunt for You magazine in the Mail on Sunday, looks at the joys of newfound freedom, even when you miss the kids

Zelda West-Meads, agony aunt for You magazine in the Mail on Sunday, looks at the joys of new-found freedom, even when you miss the kids.

There can be few parents who don’t shed some tears when their children leave home – perhaps to go off to University, to share a flat with friends or maybe to get married and start a new life with a partner.

Here I have taken a look at the issues involved but also highlighted the positives that can help overcome possible problems, based on my years of experience as a marriage and relationships counsellor.

It’s a new chapter for you, too

Even if he or she is not the last child to leave, you can still experience a huge sense of loss without that day-to-day contact that you’re used to. And of course, you may find that siblings left at home are also a bit down as they’re missing their brother or sister.

But when it is your last little one to fly the nest, it can be particularly hard. Suddenly the house seems very quiet and going into your child’s strangely tidy and empty bedroom can bring a pang of sadness.

Getting used to change

While some parents relish their new-found freedom and having the house to themselves, for others, learning to cope with the empty nest can be like a grieving process.

Mothers especially can find it hard, as often they have been the main care giver and may have given up other aspects of their lives to bring up their children and now feel a sense of redundancy. Research has shown that it can take 18 months to adjust to this new stage in your life.

  • It is very important to encourage and support the child who is leaving.  While for you, it may feel like the end of an era, for them it is an adventure and the start of a new chapter in their lives. So while you may be sad, try not to let them see too much of this. They need to feel that you are excited for them rather than feeling guilty about you myourissing them and moping at home. Of course, now we have mobiles and Skype, it is much easier to keep in touch and make sure that they are ok. (Though be careful not to swamp them with endless calls and texts.)

  • For you too though, as well as them, it really can be a time of new opportunities. While if you were very close to your child or children there will inevitably be a gap, for others their child leaving home can be a relief. Your once adorable 10-year-old may have turned into a very rebellious or difficult teenager or young adult. And with house prices now so high, your children may have stayed at home rather longer than you anticipated. You may actually find that you get on with them better at a distance. Arguments may be fewer and hopefully they will start to appreciate all the things that you did for them when they were at home.

  • You will probably find that there is a lot less cooking, cleaning, shopping and laundry to do and you may welcome those blissful extra hours to yourself. You might think about going for promotion, a complete career change, studying or even starting a business. You can volunteer, take up a new hobby, join an amateur dramatics society perhaps or finally write that novel. And it will give you the freedom to see more of your friends, go to dinner parties, or even go on exotic holidays.

  • Perhaps most importantly though, it gives you the time to rediscover your relationship and the person you fell in love with all those years ago. You can have proper, uninterrupted conversations, spend time together, make love more often and have fun together as a couple. See my article 10 tips for keeping romance alive.

Sadly, for some couples, one or both of them may have only been staying with their husband or wife for the sake of the children and the empty nest can be a crunch time for divorce. But it doesn’t have to be like that. First, take stock. Look at why you think you no longer want to be with your partner (or vice versa) and see if it is possible to sort your differences out. It can be helpful to have joint counselling to see if the marriage can be saved or, if not, to help and support you through separation and divorce.

Making the most of now

Though daunting, this new start can be a precious time, both for your own goals and dreams and for strengthening that couple bond. Enjoy these years – before you know it, your children may start to have children of your own and you will be on call again as a grandparent, and another chapter in your life will begin.

zelda
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Zelda

Family/Relationships

Marriage & relationship counsellor, sexual therapist & author of several self-help books.