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Coping with Empty Nest Syndrome as the university year begins

Empty Nest Syndrome: Finding a new zest for life

If you’re a parent whose child is about to leave for or 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 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 your 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 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.  

For those whose 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 Mumsnet, Family 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

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 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 put aside your washing and ironing piles. 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

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, 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. 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 only, or 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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