How DO you Survive Empty Nest Syndrome?
Bringing children into the world is a long-term commitment that involves a number of life stages. You are there to make sure that they are kept safe, fed and nurtured, as they learn about their world, start to discover who they are in relation to those around them, and work their way through their first birthday, nursery, and primary school. They learn how to manage the basics, as their brains develop, helping them through secondary school, college and then onwards.
And suddenly they are getting ready to leave home.
That’s right! Your baby has all grown up into a strapping young man or a beautiful young woman. Whilst the past 18 years seem, to you, to have passed by in a flash, for them it has been a long time coming and for many, they cannot wait to get out there and live their lives
All your hard work, investment, guidance, discipline and leniency, setting boundaries and guidelines, all the ups and downs have brought you to this point.
FIRSTLY, pat yourself on the back for a job well done!
YOu did all this whilst ‘learning on the job’ so to speak. They did not come with an instruction manual and for those of you with more than one child, you will know that the manual needs to be thrown out with baby number 2!
SECONDLY, when your young person is venturing out into the world, finally taking that big independent leap into adulthood, to start to have, and to enjoy a fabulous and exciting new set of experiences and that is good news, you can know you have enabled that!!
But what about you?
The day finally arrives, and with bags packed, they practically skip out the door, leaving you behind, it can feel like without a thank you.
How are you feeling now? Maybe relieved and guilty for feeling so, maybe sad, angry that you are not able to embark on an adventure of your own, or perhaps depressed – you feel like your life is over!
Dads, as well as mums generally report feeling a multitude of feelings from deep sadness, anxiety, loneliness, grief, maybe depression and for others, a sense of pride, relief that things have turned out so well, maybe even a little bit of excitement at the fact there is some time freedom.
It is all normal!
When my first child left home to go to university, I did not experience the feelings of loss until many months later, as her home visits became less frequent and she began to celebrate her own independence.
It was only hindsight that I realized what was going on! I really missed her in so many ways, many of which I couldn’t convey to her at the time – I didn’t know how, without seeming to be needy, or clingy.
I missed our conversations some of which could be deep and meaningful, she had always been great company in that way, as she had a unique, inquisitive and sharp mind.
I found myself looking into her bedroom one day, still filled with all her stuff and feeling more than a little pang of sadness at her having gone. As much for me too, as an era had come to an end! Which then brought about feelings of guilt about all I did wrong and what I could have done to help her more, be there for her; blaming myself for things that she had probably long forgotten!
I found myself reminiscing over photos of her as a baby, a toddler, and young girl, over the many shared experiences we had had, and even now being amazed at how fast those years had passed and what a lovely woman she was growing into!
I felt hurt by her no longer needing me, unwanted almost, as our relationship had changed in the some way. Gone were the times we spent playing, reading stories, cuddling up on the sofa, and in her teenage years, watching scary programmes on TV, the occasional deep and meaningful conversations, the family events, the music.
In my efforts to avoid being ‘that’ clingy mum, I may have given her more space than I would have liked, which may have gave the impression of me being Ok with it or worse still, that I didn’t care! She will never know the depth of what I felt – how could she, I didn’t!
To start with she came back every 3 or 4 weeks, but by the New Year, she had fully embraced university life and she started to come home, less, and less. She was blossoming and having the time or her life! And deep down, I loved that she was making a great transition into adulthood!
By the time my youngest left many years later, I knew what to expect and was much better prepared.
Empty Nest Syndrome is a time of massive change for parents (and for the child, but that will be the subject of a separate post) and refers to the emotional transition nearly every parent feels in one way or another.
This transition from being a hand’s on, full time to parent, to being a distant, parent with changing roles can have a massive impact.
You may experience a whole gamult of feelings about their leaving and let me tell you – IT IS OK!
It is normal and it is more about how you can make that transition. For some parents’ it is a reasonably easy transition, with feelings passing by seemingly without making themselves known, and yet for others, it is a massive experience.
Do not underestimate it though – it is a form of loss, grief, a bereavement if you like,
It is a loss of purpose, role and even identity, for those stay at home parents, no longer sure of what is expected of them, finding themselves in a new (and possibly for a while) challenging relationship with their child, as they grow in confidence and independence.
And I am here to let you know, it is ok, to experience some or all of these emotions!
Just know that they will pass, and that there are things that you can do to help yourself, such as find yourself a new hobby, start to plan the next brand new chapter of your life, which I will explore in another blog
But most of all, be kind to yourself, all those feelings are normal!