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How do you cope when your children leave home?

PUBLISHED: 22:53 01 October 2018 | UPDATED: 07:39 02 October 2018

A child leaving home for university can be a challenging time for parents, says Paula Meir.
Picture: Getty Images

A child leaving home for university can be a challenging time for parents, says Paula Meir. Picture: Getty Images

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Teenagers across the country are heading off to university but how do the parents they leave behind fill their empty nest? Sheena Grant gets some tips from therapist, coach and author Paula Meir.

Paula Meir, who has written an e-book for parents whose children are leaving home.
Picture: Paula MeirPaula Meir, who has written an e-book for parents whose children are leaving home. Picture: Paula Meir

Her dancing may not have won her many fans but thousands of parents across the country will have been able to relate to Susannah Constantine’s emotional social media post about saying goodbye to her university-bound son.

The tearful TV stylist, who became the first celebrity to be voted off this year’s Strictly Come Dancing on Sunday (September 30), had days before told her Instagram followers she was feeling bereft and added: “I just wanted to share this moment because I think a lot of mums will be going through this right now when they say goodbye to their child who is going off to university.”

Susannah is absolutely right, says East Anglian therapist, coach and author Paula Meir, who has written an e-book on the subject, called My children have left! Now what do I do?

Paula’s book, which she is giving away on her website as a free pdf, is a practical guide for parents whose children are leaving home, dealing with everything from how to cope when you don’t hear from your children as much as you would like to what the next chapter of your life might look like and all the emotions you are likely to experience.

“As parents, especially mothers, we go through a range of emotions when our children are old enough to leave home,” says Paula. “There may have been times when we quietly dreamed of this moment; the peace and quiet, no more arguments and no more picking up dirty laundry from the bedroom floor. But then the day arrives it can feel disorientating and sad. What are we going to do if we are not parenting?

“Some parents, especially the primary care giver, can experience severe loss. It’s not uncommon to experience an acute sense of grief, depression or sadness.”

It’s a subject Paula has personal, as well as professional, experience of.

Both her sons have left home and she knows just how challenging it can be.

“Friends and family may try to make us feel better by reminding us how lucky we are to get rid of them but often we don’t feel lucky - because despite everything, we miss them,” says Paula.

“In much the same way that we experienced a huge rush of emotion when the little bundles arrived in our lives, often so fierce it takes our breath away, a similar thing can happen when our child leaves home. Of course, it’s all part of growing up. Our children are given as ‘gifts’ to us and are not owned by us. We may know this logically but it does nothing to squash the emotion we feel as they skip enthusiastically out the door with barely a backward glance. It’s OK to feel these emotions, they are completely normal and shared by millions during this transition. But it’s important we don’t get stuck in them as they can end up having a negative impact on our lives.”

Norwich-based Paula says that for her personally, agreeing communications arrangements before her sons left helped, setting expectations of how often they were going to get in touch or respond to texts or calls.

“When your children are at home, you know roughly where they are at any time but when they leave you go into the realms of the unknown. You have no real idea what they are up to, who they are with or even whether they have got home that night. You have to learn to trust everything you have ‘installed’ in your children about safety and rights and wrongs, and most importantly trust that they are safe and doing the right thing. Otherwise you can literally drive yourself mad.”

But just when you have got used to living without your child in your everyday life, warns Paula, you may have to think about making a new adjustment: having them back. The Office of National Statistics says a quarter of 25-34-year-olds in the UK are returning to live with their parents, the highest recorded number since records began in 1996, often because of housing and employment difficulties.

And that brings a whole new set of challenges.

To download Paula’s free e-book, visit www.paulameir.com.

Paula’s tips

Don’t live your life through your child. If you impose what you want them to be or do you run the risk of them not finding happiness because they just want to please you. No matter how much you might think you know best, you don’t always. They need to find their own path to happiness.

Allow them to fail (safely, if you can, but if you can’t, that’s OK too). Failure and rejection are part of life and you can’t protect them all they time. They will experience life’s ups and downs like everybody else. Resilience and perseverance builds courage and a confidence that will help them succeed in the future.

Refrain from telling them how upset you are now they are gone. You can let them know you miss them, but don’t overdo it. Your children continue to absorb confidence from how confident you feel about their ability to manage themselves away from you so be their cheerleader, not their fun sponge.

This is your time. What have you always wanted to do or try but couldn’t find the time between homework, chores and taxi runs? What makes you happy and gives you joy - do you even know? This is your opportunity to explore who you are and where your talent and potential lies.

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