As many students head off to university in the next few weeks, it is a well-known concept that some parents will fall prey to the feelings connected to the Empty Nest. Empty Nest syndrome covers the feeling that certain parents experience connected to the loss of their children from the family home. Depression, sadness and the feeling of grief can quite simply leave some parents, overwhelmed.
It is not unusual to feel the loss of a child leaving home and tears or sadness over their going are a natural and healthy expression of this. However, where the feelings mount up and take over uncontrollably in the longer term, the empty nest syndrome that is becoming apparent may need help to overcome particularly if the tears are excessive or parents become housebound not wanting to socialize as a result of the sadness that is consuming them or even feel that they have no further purpose in life.
It may also be that there are other factors existing concurrently such as menopause or the parent’s parents becoming more dependent as they themselves get older. It may also be that life adjustments are needed to overcome the mix of emotions at this time and a reassessment of priorities and daily routines to pull parents round from the feelings from the empty nest and other stresses. The key is to monitor feelings, keep a note of the ups and downs, the pressures and the stresses and if they all become too much to ask for professional help.
Such professional help may be able to offer treatments to relieve the feelings of empty nest syndrome such as antidepressants and other therapies to turn the tide. However, there are also a number of self-help initiatives that can be put in place both before children leave as well as afterwards that will help deal with this time in a parent’s life:
- Establish good relationships with children before they go. A healthy relationship that is based on respect, responsibility and love goes a long way at such times. If relations are good beforehand then the psychological benefits gained when children leave home are greater.
- Have a plan. Accepting that children will leave home and the possibility that a parent might be hit with empty nest syndrome can be a great motivator for putting a plan in place to ensure that parents will be able to fill the void that they might otherwise feel. Thinking ahead and considering that options are available, particularly where the parent hasn’t worked, can pre-empt and avoid the backlash of the empty nest. Consider exploring new hobbies, work opportunities or leisure pursuits or resurrect ones that have been put on hold over the last few years.
- Have a support network. Look to friends and other family for support at this time remembering that thousands of other parents are going through exactly the same thing.
- Be aware of the changes that the parent/child relationship will go through at this time. Once children have left home they will probably want and need their privacy more and the expectations of parental input may well shift depending on how it has manifested over the time building up to the child leaving. Talk to your child and discuss their expectations and build up a healthy respect. Parenting doesn’t stop when the child leaves home but it certainly changes and it is important to realise this and accept it.
- Finally consider the impact that the child leaving will have on other members of the family still at home. Talk to siblings that have been “left behind” and may well also feel the loss of a brother/sister especially if they have had good relationships before. Even where the relationship has been tenuous and they might not want to admit the feelings they have, younger children may well feel a bit at sea without their older brother or sister at home on a permanent basis. Take the time to help them adjust too and help set up a facilities for communication between siblings to prosper now they are apart.
- Remember that even as the family becomes separated by living in different parts of the country or indeed world, a family isn’t just a geographical unit confined by the parameters of the walls of the family home but a living, breathing and hopefully loving group of people that exist together or apart. Try and embrace the new situation that materialises as the nest empties out with an open heart and mind.