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Empty Nest Syndrome: Finding a new zest for life

If you’re a parent whose child has just started university, it’s natural to feel a range of emotions. You’ll no doubt feel happy they have achieved a place and are embarking on an exciting new adventure. At the same time, you may also be feeling a sense of sadness or loneliness. These conflicting feelings often referred to as ‘empty nest syndrome’, are common.

What is empty nest syndrome?

Empty Nest Syndrome

Empty nest syndrome is a term coined to describe the feelings of loneliness and sadness some parents experience when their children grow up and leave home. Some common emotions you may experience include:

•       Feelings of sadness, loss or grief

•       Feeling like you have a lack of purpose

•       Having a sense of loneliness

•       Being worried about your child’s safety or ability to look after themselves

•       Having a sense of disconnect from their child

Empty nest syndrome is more common than you may think. UK charity Family Lives says it receives a spike in calls from anxious parents at the beginning of the term. Many also worry about their child and how they will cope with being away from home, while others are troubled by the idea their relationship with their partner might suffer now they’re on their own again.

If your child has just started student life, the wellbeing experts at CABA have offered their tips on making the transition from being an empty nester, to finding a new zest for life as easy as possible:

1. Talk to other empty nesters

If your child is about to leave for university, you may know other parents who are in the same boat. If so, starting a dialogue about your feelings may reassure you that you’re not alone. Getting things off your chest and acknowledging how you feel can bring immediate relief too. Remember, you’re not alone, forums such as MumsnetFamily Lives or Netmums all offer a great place to connect with other empty nesters who can offer invaluable advice and support.

2. Reconnect as a couple 

Empty nest syndrome

Many parents struggle with empty nest syndrome because they feel 1-2-1 time with their partner over the years has been lost to family chats – and now suddenly, it’s just the 2 of them. If you’re lost for conversation, save the awkwardness and tell your partner how you feel.

With all that extra privacy in the house, you can start to rekindle your relationship and get to know one another again. Try doing things you used to do for fun before your family came along, such as having more evenings out or weekends away. Or you could try taking up a new hobby together. It may feel strange when you start doing things for yourselves after decades of putting your children first but having more quality time together should do wonders for your relationship.

3. Take some time out  

Getting your child ready for a university can be a busy time. Preparing them for an independent life means making sure they can cook for themselves, do their own laundry and budget responsibly. So, when the day finally comes, give yourself permission to take it easy for a week or two. Without any children to look after, you can eat whatever you want, sleep in at the weekend and forget about washing and ironing. Indulge yourself – it could help you to appreciate your new-found freedom.

4. Delay any drastic changes 

Once your children have left home you may be tempted to make changes to fill the void, such as moving to a new house for instance. But while it may feel a big part of your life is coming to an end, take the time to fully adjust to your new situation before you make any major decisions.

5. Get active 

Empty nest syndrome

Being more physically active is a great way to boost your mood as it helps your body release ‘feel-good’ hormones called endorphins. Try to take up active leisure pursuits that happen outdoors, as studies suggest there’s a positive relationship between exposure to nature and positive mental health. If you can be moderately active for at least 150 minutes a week, you’ll improve your physical health too. Why not take this opportunity to combine getting active with spending more quality time with your partner or other family members? For example, walks around the park, taking the dog out and cycling make for great ways to talk, create more intimacy whilst burning calories.

6. Try not to pester 

Even when you live apart you can still be close to your children. Today’s technology means it’s never been easier to stay in touch by phone, email, text and video chat.  

When your child first leaves home they’ll probably want to stay in touch regularly too. But it’s important to give them space to adjust to their new life, so try to avoid smothering them by constantly monitoring their social media or calling them too often. It’s a good idea to make a date for the first visit when you drop them off. That way, you both have something to look forward to. This is when you can discuss how they’re coping with budgeting, cooking for themselves and if they are enjoying their course.

While your initial outlook may be gloomy when your last child leaves, you’ll soon start seeing the positives. You’ve done a great job raising your family, but now it’s your time. Take this opportunity to focus on you and your wellbeing.

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8 Comments

  1. October 8, 2018 / 11:38 am

    Oh my goodness I can imagine this must be so hard. It’s such a massive transition and I guess reconnecting with your partner and finding the positives in it has to be the way forward.

    • October 8, 2018 / 7:43 pm

      I have seen it happen with so many friends, it’s why my husband and I make the effort to keep ‘dating’ each other as much as possible x

  2. October 8, 2018 / 1:59 pm

    I’m sure I’ll be heartbroken when the kids leave home although part of me longs for that time to come so I can have some me time but I know in reality it will hit me really hard, i’ve been a mum for 22 years already and when my youngest is 18 that will be almost 33 years so a huge amount of time x

    • October 8, 2018 / 7:44 pm

      Yes I think when you have your family over a longer period it can make you reach that point xx

  3. Helen
    October 8, 2018 / 5:40 pm

    Oh gosh this is something I already worry about and my eldest is only 3.5 years old. When your main purpose in life leaves home then it will always be a really hard adjustment to make, though when it become empty nest syndrome that’s even harder x

    • October 8, 2018 / 7:45 pm

      Haha yes I started worrying about it when mine were babies – nothing like planning ahead is there x

  4. October 9, 2018 / 5:13 am

    It’s weird to think my parents felt like this when my little sister who was the last to leave the house left. I visit them often, talk daily and take them abroad with me but I can see they have reconnected as a couple too.

    • October 9, 2018 / 8:59 am

      I think it’s something that as the kids we don’t really consider but now that I’m the parent I can definitely see how they must have felt 🙁 x

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