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Empty Nest - Loss or Opportunity?

For many parents September heralds the start of university and the day comes when their child leaves home for the first time.  Some parents may find this a relief, time to get their space back and get on with the goals they’ve been holding back on during the years of parenting.  For some, however, it leaves a big empty space that they have no idea how to fill.  When the last child flies the nest they may find themselves feeling redundant and struggle to become motivated to find out what exciting things they could do with the rest of their lives. Their life has revolved so much around their children they have lost sight of who they are.


When my first child left home I anticipated my feelings of loss and planned a trip to Paris the weekend he left to take my mind off my feelings of sadness. I also had the comfort of knowing my second child would still be at home for a couple more years.  The day came when my second child left for university.  I still remember that day vividly, it was one of those lovely warm and sunny late September days.  I’d helped him move all his things into his new room and was watching him starting to mingle with all the other new students.  It suddenly struck me that this was it, my ‘baby’ was leaving home too.  I cried all the way of the long drive home that day.  In the days and weeks that followed I felt a real sense of loss.  I suddenly became very aware of parents with young children and yearned for those days again. It’s only once they’ve left that you really realise the huge part of your life you have dedicated to parenting.


Our children leaving home is a normal and healthy part of life, it is also a time of transition which can naturally create conflicting emotions within us.  On the one hand, we may feel happy and proud that our children are progressing well and turning into confident adults.  On the other hand, we may feel a sense of sadness, of being left behind as they move on and for some we can lose our sense of purpose.  


There are circumstances where parents may be more likely to feel the effects of the empty nest syndrome, for example when parents are then back on their own as a couple, it can expose problems in marital relationships.  For some their children leave home at the same time as they are experiencing other transitional life events such as the menopause or retirement which can be stressful in themselves.


So, when I ask if the empty nest is a loss or an opportunity, in my opinion it is both.  There is no shame in feeling sadness and loss as your children leave home, it is a normal and natural reaction to have.  If you are feeling overwhelmed by these feelings, though, it would be a good idea to talk to friends or to get the help of a professional. 


When your children leave home they give you the gift of more space and time to do your own thing.  The opportunities are there for the taking but for some of us, we need to acknowledge and work through our feelings of loss before we feel ready to pursue them.


If this blog has been of interest look out for my Empty Nest Survival Guide which will be available soon.