How to cope when children fly the nest

PUBLISHED: 17:46 27 August 2014 | UPDATED: 17:46 27 August 2014

As children leave for university, parents can feel left behind

As children leave for university, parents can feel left behind


Most parents of young children would admit to looking forward to the time when they can once again enjoy a night out without having to find a babysitter.

Empty nest syndrome is a ‘rite of passage’ says mum-of-three

With three sons who have all left for university, Kate Cleaver is no stranger to the pangs of so-called empty nest syndrome.

But she was determined to be positive about the changes this made to her life and so she discovered a love of cycling.

A supportive book club group with members who are close friends and going through a similar time in their families, has also helped her through the experience.

Kate, from Wells-next-the-Sea, says: “I’m all about being positive. In my case I have always worked and enjoyed getting out and working with others.

“I got into cycling and it’s a great way to get out into the air and I thought jumping in the saddle and cycling away from an empty nest was a positive thing to do.”

While Kate believes her experience may have been different to many, because her sons went to boarding school, she was still used to them coming back for holidays and weekends.

She says: “I think it was hardest when the first one went. Then you get into a new mode of thinking.”

Kate feels she is now able to enjoy a more adult relationship with her sons, who are now 28, 26 and 22.

She says: “I do believe it’s a rite of passage. I think it’s real, the business of empty nest syndrome, for many mums and dads too.

“You have to keep believing you have done your job well, if they have the confidence to go out there into the world.

“I think you also have to give yourself a break and accept that it might take a week or two to readjust to a new scene.”

But when that day finally does come, either because offspring have left home or gone to university, instead of popping champagne corks some mums and dads are left struggling with a huge sense of loss.

Whether it begins to set in when the university place has been confirmed, or if it hits you in the stomach suddenly after dropping a child off at their halls, the emotions some parents experience can be akin to grief as they let go of the child they raised and prepare to start a new relationship with them as an adult.

Psychotherapeutic counsellor Debbie Hare says she regularly helps clients comes to terms with this issue.

“Loneliness is the biggest one I hear about, and a feeling of being abandoned and neglected,” she says.

University essentials

• If you are packing your child off to university, then make sure you’re sending them with the essentials. Here’s what some of our writers suggested:

• An extra duvet or some sort of mattress protector. “The mattresses at uni accommodation are always hard and give you bad backs. So putting a duvet on it before you put the sheet over gives extra comfort.”

• A washing basket. “Nothing worse than lugging a bin bag full of soggy clothes across campus.”

• A Grub on a Grant cookbook or other similar recipe collection for making cheap and basic dishes.

• More than one pair of trainers. “I only took one pair and by Christmas, I was having to go to the doctors about what looked like trenchfoot (it wasn’t).”

• “The best thing I took with me was a toastie maker.”

• “My dad’s tips to me - a crate of beers to make friends and Alka Seltzer (or similar) to recover.”

• Mobile phone with lots of credit/free minutes to ring mum and dad.

• A bottle opener and ear plugs.

• A laptop. A must if you want to be able to write essays and research topics in the comfort of your own room rather than in the university computer block.

• “A door wedge for their room – so they won’t feel closed off from everyone.”

“The hardest hit by empty nest syndrome are single parents. When they are single, people find it really, really difficult.

“They feel like they are lonely and have been abandoned and are not wanted any more.

“People can become really depressed with it and it’s important they try not to go down that road.”

Debbie says the key is to “find out who you are”. That may sound like a pretty big task, but it can start with some simple steps.

For example, revisiting the things that someone enjoyed doing before they became a mother or a wife, or a father or a husband.

Debbie says: “You have to try to remember who you were before you had children. Sometimes people have forgotten who they were because they have been so busy being a wife or a mother.

“It could be listening to the music you loved when you were young, or looking through old photographs which bring back memories of that time.

“Finding and getting back in touch with old friends can help.”

Reconnecting with hobbies and past-times of when you were younger, can also help people to find new things that they enjoy, which can help to fill the hole left by a couple of rowdy teenagers.

One client of Debbie’s found that listening to old music led her to finding new music that she loved. Another decided that a teenage passion for photography had been cut short by family life and it was time to return to taking pictures.

“Find your old loves first,” says Debbie. “Things that used to make you smile. Go up in the attic and find that favourite dress you used to wear.

“You do it in small steps and it often leads to finding something new.”

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