I remember when our second and last child moved out of the family home and went to a big city. The place felt empty and my wife and I kept wondering what were we going to do with ourselves after spending the last 20 years turning babies into partially civilised young adults.
While we had encouraged our children to be independent, think for themselves and take responsibility for their own actions, the experience of seeing them go was still painful.
It took a lot of adjusting to and we spent more than a few sleepless nights worrying about our 2 children finding their way in the two big cities they were living in.
Because the “empty nest” is an experience that so many parents go through, I thought I would check on how the experts suggest we should handle it. The famous Mayo Clinic in the USA offered this advice-
- Accept the timing. Avoid comparing your child's timetable to your own experience or expectations. Instead, focus on what you can do to help your child succeed when he or she does leave home.
- Keep in touch. You can continue to be close to your children even when you live apart. Make an effort to maintain regular contact through visits, phone calls, emails, texts or video chats.
- Seek support. If you're having a difficult time dealing with an empty nest, lean on loved ones and other close contacts for support. Share your feelings. If you feel depressed, consult your doctor or a mental health provider.
- Stay positive. Thinking about the extra time and energy you might have to devote to your marriage or personal interests after your last child leaves home might help you adapt to this major life change.
Can we prevent empty nest syndrome?
If your last child is about to leave home and you're worried about empty nest syndrome, plan ahead. Look for new opportunities in your personal and professional life. Keeping busy or taking on new challenges at work or at home can help ease the sense of loss that your child's departure might cause.
Fortunately, it’s not all bad news. The Mayo Clinic went on to quote some recent studies that suggested an empty nest might reduce work and family conflicts, and can provide parents with many other benefits. When the last child leaves home, parents have a new opportunity to reconnect with each other, improve the quality of their marriage and rekindle interests for which they previously might not have had time.
Of course these days it’s getting progressively harder to maintain this “empty nest”. The “boomerang generation” have arrived and the kids keep coming back. It’s now easier and cheaper for older kids to live at home and it’s become the norm for parents to accept boyfriends and girlfriends who sleep over. Recent studies found that 39% of adults aged between 18 and 34 were either still living in the family home or had only recently moved out.
So if today’s parents want to really experience what the “empty nest syndrome” is all about, they should probably sell the family home when the last child leaves and be selective about who they give their new address to.
(This article originally appeared on the My Life Change website and has been reproduced with permission from Paul McKeon of Baby Boomers Life Change Pty Ltd)