Coping With Empty Nest Syndrome
Will Your Nest Be Empty This Autumn?
I've Been Here - Let Me Help You Cope With This Major Change To Your Family Life!
The A-level results have come and gone, your last summer holiday as a family was a mix of fun and poignant reflection, and now you face your last child leaving home. Parents experience a mix of emotions when their child becomes an adult and finally moves away either to study or work.
This new phase in family life can sometimes be a rocky road. Personally I faced a three-month black hole of depression when my youngest left home. It took a long time to accept that my role as parent was changing drastically. I use the analogy of driving a car. Where initially a parent is in the driving seat with their children safely in the back, when your child leaves home your role becomes that of the occasional passenger in your child's car of life. A large part of your very existence - steering a path, offering advice, and being a responsible shoulder - seems to be taken away.
But empty nest syndrome (ENS) is not the same experience for all parents. Some parents wave cheerily goodbye to their grown-up children and relish having a quieter home with fewer responsibilities. And other parents suddenly realise they’re living with a “stranger”. They no longer “know” their partner. The responsibility of raising a family overtook their relationship. In such cases it can lead to a breakdown of their marriage.
Whatever your experience of ENS there are number of things you can do to negotiate this transitory phase in your life.
* First and foremost provide your child with a pre-paid mobile that you’ll regularly top up. The last thing you want is for them to run out of funds so they don't have access to a mobile. You end up worrying about them because you don't hear from them all term.
* Phone communication can be a bit tricky with someone who's finding their feet. They don't want to feel obliged to have lengthy conversations with you. Explain clearly to them that you would appreciate brief and semi-regular phone calls from them. Negotiate what you both see as “semi-regular”. Then stick to your word - when they do ring don't ask so many questions it’d put Who Wants To Be A Millionaire to shame!
* Texts, e-mails and phone calls are great but sending them something a little special will mean a good deal. Post them occasional treats that connect them to home. Perhaps they had a favourite biscuit you used to bake. Send them some in a "care package”. Include a recent photo of your family pet or something else they’ll enjoy.
* Right from the start explain that if they’re ever in a crisis of any sort they can always get in touch. Many youngsters feel like a failure if they have to ring Mum and Dad about a problem. The last thing you want is for them to feel isolated and on their own, perhaps when they haven't yet established a group of friends.
* Pre-agree some occasional visits but these don't have to be set in stone. You may’ve thought it was a good idea for you to visit three weeks into their first term. But that week they end up with some fantastic thing they want to do and they prefer to postpone. Don't make a song and dance, be flexible, so that you’re on good terms when you do eventually meet up.
* Resist the temptation to "sabotage" their burgeoning independence. If you’re helping them financially then work out a budget together and stick to it. One of the biggest lessons of life they'll learn at this juncture is how to manage a budget. Sabotaging this experience by being an endless money pit doesn't help. Equally whenever they have a problem, dishing out advice without first exploring what they see as the options, will also prevent their growing maturity.
* When it comes to you and your needs keep talking to your partner. They may feel the same or differently but it's honest communication that’ll get you both through. You might find that when one of you is down in the dumps the other is on an “up” and can help lift your mood.
* Use this as an opportunity to do the things you previously felt you didn't have time for when you were running a family. Take that evening class, do more things with friends, plan some long weekend breaks, and indulge your selves a little.
* This is also a great time to rekindle your sex life together. Now that there's no worry that your teenager’s going to arrive home after a party, catching you two in the middle of something, many couples feel a new found sense of freedom. Treasure this! Treat each other to some romantic dates. Then have that sensuous, candlelit bath where you sit and sip a little champagne together. Something you wouldn't have time to do when children were around.
Finally, whatever you do, don't to burden your child with your experience of ENS. Of course you can tell them you miss them and love them but don't howl down the phone how life isn't worth living any more! They may be finding it hard enough without feeling responsible for your emotions.
Published in The Express Newspaper