The empty nest syndrome is a real thing. It’s the feeling of sadness, grief, and loneliness that parents can experience when their children leave home for the first time. It’s a normal reaction to a major life change, but it can be difficult to cope with. How do you let them know how much they’ll be missed, without burdening them with your own feelings? As a mum who’s about to experience this for the first time, I’ve rounded up the advice of my friends, and scoured the internet for ideas on how to cope.
How to cope when your child leaves home
- Trust them. You’ve prepared them for this. Our kids growing up and grabbing independence is what we train them to do, so trust yourself that you’ve done a good enough job, then trust them to take it from here. Plenty of mums who’ve gone before me have told me that once they saw their child was happy and settled, their own worries and sense of loss also settled, and they could get on with the job of being proud.
- Try not to phone them every day. As hard as it is, you both need to get used to the new dynamic, and calling daily will just make you focus on that phone call. When they don’t call – because they’re having fun and forget – you’ll panic. Send them a card every now and then, and drop funny videos into the group chat so they know you’re still thinking of them, but try to let them go.
- If you can convince them to let you visit a few weeks after they go, this might be a nice way to break up the next few weeks. It will also give you evidence that they’re coping and happy. You might want to avoid them coming home mid-term if they’re homesick. Most universities advise leaving at least 6 weeks before a visit, to give them time to adjust to any homesickness.
- Make a plan to watch your favourite TV shows at the same time and chat on WhatsApp as you watch. Chances are they’ll be watching with new friends, but you’ll feel connected and part of their new life, whilst continuing a tradition.
- Try to view your loss as a fabulous gain for them. Imagine all the things they’re experiencing, the richness of their lives, and congratulate yourself for making that possible for them.
- Plan little treats to send them every now and then – first on the list is an advent calendar!
How to cope as your child gets ready to leave home
If you’re in the run-up to their departure – they may be leaving for university, for example – there are a few things to remember which might help you cope:
- The thought of them leaving is probably worse than than them actually being gone. Mum’s who’ve been there before me have all said they adjusted more quickly than they thought they would, and it’s the build-up thats the worst. In the meantime, try to focus on the time you’re spending together now. Take them shopping for the things they’ll need in their new home, and plan some fun days out. This will distract you, and help you feel more invested in the process.
- You’ll probably miss them less than you imagine! Yes, their rooms my feel empty and bare on the day they go, but think of the reduced cleaning, the ability to get in there an hoover without a shouting match over the floordrobe. You’ll probably have more cups and forks in your kitchen when you need them, too. Try and remember that for every negative there may well be an upside. I’m looking forward to falling asleep before 2am! I’ve heard parents say they really missed their kids in the first term of university – until they came home. Then they realised how much easier life was when they were away, and things got much easier.
- Think of the things they will learn. It’s not just academic learning they do at university – it’s life skills. And if they’re setting up home for themselves they will eventually figure out how to clean the toilet and make a decent lasagne. Look forward to them making you dinner on their return.
- You know how fast time has seemed to go as your kids have got older? I’m told it goes even faster. So they’ll be home in no time.
- Think of all the things that will stay the same when your child leaves home: the toilet roll on the holder, the fridge full of food, the towels hanging neatly on their rails…
What to do if your child is worried about leaving home
This is slightly different. As parents, we’re used to putting our own feelings on the back burner when our kids are struggling, so here is where you will step up for them. If your child isn’t looking forward to going, here’s how you can help:
- Let them tell you what’s worrying them, and don’t try to fix it. Often they’re just overwhelmed with emotions about all the change; letting it out and having their feelings recognised might be all they need for now.
- Reassure them that they can call you whenever they need to hear your voice. It might also help to establish a weekly WhatsApp video call with you or the wider family, so they have that regular connection to look forward to.
- Remind them that everyone at university is in the same boat. It will be much easier than they think to meet new people and build connections, and they’ll have a lovely set of friends quite quickly.
- Send them this post on how to get ready for starting university – it’s written by a first time uni student.
- Create a care package for them to take with them. A few things they’ll enjoy, plus some reminders of home can help them feel more settled on that daunting first night away.
- Our worst pain is seeing our child in pain, so this is hard for us, but try to focus on what they will gain from this experience. The likelihood is they will come home more confident because of what they’ve achieved without us.
More tips for coping with the empty nest syndrome
- Allow yourself to grieve. It’s okay to feel sad, angry, or even relieved when your child leaves home. Don’t try to bottle up your emotions. Let yourself cry, talk to friends or family, or write in a journal.
- Celebrate your child’s independence. This is a big milestone for your child, so take some time to celebrate their accomplishments. Let them know how proud you are of them.
- Make new plans for your life. Now that you have more free time, think about what you want to do with it. Maybe you’ll take up a new hobby, travel more, or spend more time with your spouse or friends.
- Stay connected with your child. Even though your child is no longer living at home, you can still stay connected. Talk to them on the phone or video chat regularly. Visit them as often as you can.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help. If you’re struggling to cope with the empty nest syndrome, don’t be afraid to ask for help from friends, family, or a therapist.
Remember, the empty nest syndrome is a temporary phase. It will take time to adjust to your new life, but you will get through it.
Here are some additional tips that may help:
- Clean and purge your home. This can help you let go of the past and start a new chapter in your life.
- Write a letter to your child. Express your love and support, and let them know how proud you are of them.
- Print new photos of your child. Put them up around your home so you can see them every day.
- Plan something for the coming months. This could be a vacation, a new hobby, or anything else that you’re excited about.
- Let yourself be sad, but put the kabash on it after an appropriate amount of time. It’s okay to feel sad when your child leaves home, but don’t let it consume you. Allow yourself to grieve, but don’t dwell on it.
- Text someone who gets it. Talk to a friend or family member who has also experienced the empty nest syndrome. They can offer support and understanding.
- Find good examples of inspiring role models ahead of the journey. This could be a friend, family member, celebrity, or anyone else who has successfully navigated the empty nest syndrome.
Coping with the empty nest syndrome can be challenging, but it’s important to remember that you’re not alone. With time and support, you will get through this.