This episode is a little dose of comfort for anyone who has older teenagers and is staring in the face of a prospective empty nest. Liz and Michelle run the midlife podcast Two Women Chatting. Both have adult children, and have so many good things to say about their life since their kids left home for university. They even explain why empty nesters are sometimes happier.
What is the empty nest stage in family life cycle?
The empty nest is a term used to describe a parent’s situation when their adult children first leave home. Often used as a marketing category, ‘Empty nesters’ are likely to be over 50, with adult children, and – theoretically – more spare cash. Nowadays, with university costing more than ever, this age category aren’t such big spenders, but the empty nest impacts more than just the financial situation older parents find themselves in.
What are the symptoms of empty nest syndrome?
Parents facing the imminent departure of their children for university, or a move to their own home might typically experience some of the following:
- Relationship problems
However, Liz and Michelle say it doesn’t have to be this way. We discuss the fact that being over 50 isn’t just the end of an era, it could be the beginning of a new one. Depending on how we approach this stage of our lives, it could be the most fulfilling age so far. They talk about how they’ve had to learn new things (podcasting being one of them) since their kids left home, and that learning is just part of the new normal now.
How do you survive the empty nest stage?
Liz and Michelle have reassuring words for anyone who fears that the eyerolls teenagers throw their parents’ way are here to stay. They say their relationships with their adult children have really surprised them with how rewarding they are. That’s something to hold onto when you’re panicking that you’ve lost them.
In the meantime, they talk about the importance of starting to reconnect with your partner before your kids leave so that it’s less of a shock to the system when you find yourselves alone together after so long as a family. If you abandoned date nights when you had a newborn, late teens might be the time to get back into the swing of things. Likewise, taking time to do more of the things you love, and spending more time nurturing friendships before your kids leave home will prevent the sudden loss of an entire lifestyle, and help you ease into a new way of life.
Liz and Michelle say that rather than feeling completely bereft when their children moved on, they were pleased to see them fly the nest and become their own adult selves. They stay in touch more than they did before via text and social media, and can be really supportive of their mums.
How long does empty nest last?
It all depends on how you approach it. At the end of the day, you’ve got two choices – wallow in sadness and focus on missing your children, or fake it till you make it. Distract yourself with activities and friends who you enjoy spending time with until it becomes your new norm. By the time they get to the end of their first term, I’m reliably informed that parents will be used to their absence.
That said, be ready to feel it all over again when they go back after their first holiday back home with you. Parents I know all say that when their kids go back to university after a Christmas or summer holiday the first few days are harder than they’d expected. Reassure yourself that the feelings of sadness won’t last, and go back to the distraction strategies that work for you.
Tips for coping with the empty nest
If you feel like communication is less, or more difficult because of the distance, ask your child’s sibling to talk to them on your behalf, or get them to fill you in on what’s happening in their lives. The chances are they will be in touch in a different way, via social media, and may know more anecdotal things that they’re less likely to tell you.
Try to keep communication light. The temptation is to continue to try to micromanage your teenager, knowing that they haven’t yet got it all nailed. Although it might feel difficult to step back, now is the time for your child to learn their own life lessons, and they’ll appreciate you all the more for being a friend and a safe haven rather than an ‘I told you so’ parent.
Listen to the podcast
Who are Liz and Michelle?
Liz Copping and Michelle Ford started their podcast Two Women Chatting when they got chatting and realised how much they had in common in midlife – and their kids told them they should put their conversations online. They talk about everything midlife and parenting teens, and have tackled issues like menopause, meningitis and self-care. Relatable and imperfect, they navigate life as empty-nesters whilst talking to celebrities and experts about the hot topics of the day.
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