How to cope when children fly the nest

As children leave for university, parents can feel left behind

As children leave for university, parents can feel left behind - Credit: Getty Images/Stockbyte

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.

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.


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'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.

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'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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