‘Empty nest syndrome is a feeling of grief and loneliness parents may feel when their children leave home for the first time, such as to live on their own or to attend a college or university’. Wikipedia
As the autumn approaches, many students are preparing to leave home and start college, university, or go away on a gap year. This is a new, sometimes daunting prospect, but also an exciting phase in their lives. But, these young people are not the only ones facing all these changes, parents will also be starting a new chapter in their lives. Empty nest syndrome can leave parents feeling quite overwhelmed at times and unable to think rationally, suffering a real downward spiral in their emotions. Yet it is important to make the transition easy for these young adults, without focusing on the sense of loss and sadness at their departure.
It is no surprise that we have such a dramatic reaction to the departure of our offspring. We are designed to be part of a tribe – we generally flourish when we have friends, family, and loved ones around. So, as our children start to leave, we have a genuine sense of “all is not right here” – effectively a member of our tribe is going missing. Then our minds take over – we start to negatively forecast the future – our security guard is on high alert getting us ready for impending doom or destruction – this primitive default mechanism has saved us for generations and why we are alive today. However, it can get out of control, and it is important to recognise what is happening when you have that incessant chatter going on in your head.
When we feel this acute sense of loss – even the fridge can seem emptier – we need to make a conscious decision to focus on the positive things in our lives, resist the urge to check in on our offspring’s social media too frequently which can increase anxiety. Don’t make any sudden changes such as moving to a new house, or major house renovations, within the first six months.
Remember that it is perfectly normal to feel this sense of loss, and it will take time to adjust to, but to minimise this upset we can distract ourselves whilst we adjust to our new roles of parents of young adults.
Some top tips for helping you through this turbulent time are to plan some activities. Instead of wistfully walking around the house, going into the empty bedroom, focus on meeting friends, maybe learning a new skill, even joining an art society or walking group.
Being a parent can be the most rewarding job, and it can also sometimes be all consuming and you can lose sight of yourself and your relationships as you rush from one sporting activity or club to the next. So, take time to rekindle your own relationships too.
Plan a few trips you have always been putting off, travel is a great distraction and, because you can go out of peak times, it can also be cheaper. We need to distract ourselves from the missing member of our tribe, so we can focus on the positive things in our lives.
Solution Focused therapy is a great way of giving you a gentle nudge to help make small changes for your greater good and those other important people in your lives.