As the new higher education academic year starts many parents will understandably have mixed feelings about their child leaving home to embark on their new life at university. And for many of them, this year will be particularly tough after the pandemic forced so many teenagers to delay going to university and continue living at home during the long periods of lockdown. Many families became even closer as a result, and it will be even harder to say goodbye.
A great help to deal with this challenging transition may come from an interesting book: ‘The Empty Nest: Your Changing Family, Your New Direction’ by Celia Dodd. The author provides practical guidance and tips to parents on how best to cope, and even thrive, with an empty nest.
Yes, it’s a tough time for many parents but instead of seeing your child’s move only as an ending, Celia advises to view it as a new chapter in family life and an opportunity to focus attention on your own change of direction.
Looking after your own happiness and wellbeing is important for all parents when your child leaves the nest, but it’s also likely to improve your relationship with them. Children like to feel their family misses them, but the last thing they need is to feel guilty that their mum or dad is miserable and lonely without them. They may even feel more confident about spreading their wings if they feel you are embracing your own new direction too.
According to Celia, one of the great things about the empty nest are the opportunities it offers to rediscover what you genuinely enjoy doing. Having the chance to experience all of those things that you loved doing before children came along but didn’t have the time or emotional space for when they were growing up, is probably one of the unexpected benefits of this new chapter of your life.
If you are finding the empty nest hard, she advises you to take small steps each day to help you cope and allow the benefits of this new stage in life to emerge. The first one is for parents to acknowledge how they feel, and, rather than brushing their emotions aside, accept that they are going through what’s bound to be a challenging transition in their life. Talking to a good friend, or your partner, will help if you feel down, and if a low mood persists for longer than a few weeks, it’s important to talk to your GP. It also helps to identify the times you miss your child most – perhaps when they used to come home from school, or at the weekends – and to find new activities to fill the gap. Make a list of small, everyday things you can rely on to always bring you joy.
Also, it helps if parents can focus on what’s really important: that your child will be able to flourish and thrive independently as they begin their own unique journey in life, knowing that you are always there to support them when needed. So at the same time as you pursue your own new direction in life, you also need to be there for your adult child, whenever they need you. As a result, your relationship is likely to grow closer and more equal as you both embark on the exciting new chapters in your lives.