As the children go off to school or university, it’s not only a huge change for them but for parents too. Parents are often left feeling as though they’re grieving for ‘what has been’ and although they obviously haven’t actually lost their children, the sense of loss can feel very real and be overwhelming.

Feeling the loss

 Parents I have worked with explain empty nest syndrome as a feeling of loss of purpose. Often it makes them question their role and what they’re actually needed for now their kids have flown the nest. This is perhaps magnified for those whose kids have physically gone off to university. Suddenly there is a gaping hole in their lives and they know their role as parent has significantly changed.

Remember -you will always be their mum or dad

The reality of the situation is that you will always be their mum or dad, whatever happens and wherever they go or whatever they do. Knowing that you are there – whether it be to deal with their tons of dirty washing or to rant and rage at you about the amount of course work/homework they have or just for a hug when they get dumped – they need you!

It’s time to re-focus

Dealing with this change involves re-focusing on your own life – what do you want to do for you aside from being a parent?

Some people choose to go back maybe taking on a full time rather than a part time role. There are others who increase their working hours and this can help, but it does depend on the individual. My clients who take the back to work leap often need help with confidence and refocusing on what they can do, can commit to do and most importantly, what they want to do.

How do I fill the gap?

For those whose kids have left for university, I often look at what physically needs to happen in the family home so that the gap created by one less body isn’t too painful.

  1. The weekly shop: This can be a real shock to the system, but we can turn this into a positive action and form new habits e.g. “I won’t need to fill the cupboard with kids’ cereal/biscuits/crisps so that means I can finally start my healthy eating plan and not be tempted to snack on all their junk.”
  2. Start an exercise class or evening class that you’ve wanted to do for ages. Now you are not having to be “the taxi” you can now put some energy into you.
  3. Notice the times of day/evening that feel the most difficult. What is it you miss at that time? Try shaking up your routine, perhaps have dinner at a different time? Go for an evening walk when before you’d have been engrossed in family stuff. A change in routine will help shift the mindset.
  4. Sometimes the space can feel overwhelming and we freeze. Even if you are feeling at your most tired, even if your motivation to do stuff has left you, keep busy. This added to a change in routine is a distraction technique that will move you forward.
  5. Make a list of friends, family who you have been meaning to get in contact with and just haven’t had the chance to. It doesn’t have to be physical meet-up, it can be a phone call. Talking about other people’s stuff is a great way to distract ourselves and you might find you can make some plans to do something lovely.
Give them the wings to fly.

Remember, you are the parent bird – you have given them the wings to fly. You’ve pushed them gently out of the nest so that they can soar.

Concentrate not on how empty the nest feels now, but how you can create a peaceful, loving, safe environment for them when they come home and want to escape the chaos of university.

Well done!

Well done – you have created something quite wonderful and it’s your time now!