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Empty Nesters: When Your Children Leave Home

by Joanna Gilbride-West

Joanna West explores the feelings that can overcome when your children fly the nest and how you can prepare yourself for this new stage of life.

For many, September signals the end of summer, the beginning of autumn and the start of a new school year. Back-to-school can be an emotional time especially for parents in Luxembourg who have university-bound children, the majority of whom are heading off to study further afield.

Amid the pride and delight – when the packing, the moving and the goodbyes are done – facing the eerie quietness of a house without teenagers is daunting and the big question looming for a lot of parents is ‘What now?’

Today, with shared parenting roles, both men and women are at risk of struggling when their youngest child leaves home. This phase of life is a major milestone in the lives of parents. Some parents see the ‘empty nest’ as a second honeymoon or a time to get busy with all those things that you have been postponing after having spent two decades as an active parent. Others may be weighed down by feelings of sadness, grief, loss and loneliness. It is normal and only reasonable to expect the transition to throw up some difficult emotions.

But, take heart, recent studies suggest that an empty nest may also have a number of positive effects for the whole family, including improved marital relations, reduced conflict between parents and children as well as reducing work conflict and enhancing wellbeing. Although even good transitions can present challenges, most people can get through this adjustment very well and even end up thriving. That’s not to say that experiencing your child leaving home to go to college isn’t hard.

3 stages of empty nesters

In general there are 3 stages of dealing with your child leaving home; grief, relief and joy. Sadness and loneliness can take hold in the early stages. Mourning is very often associated with the loss not necessarily for your children but for your role as a parent. There can be a tremendous shift in self worth and value.

Raising a child makes you necessary and relevant, so when a child no longer needs you, you can end up feeling less necessary and less relevant. This can lead to feelings of loss and sorrow, but it often doesn’t take long to rediscover some benefits and opportunities of life with no kids in the house: not having to make dinner every night, no more school drop-offs and no more late night running at the weekend. 

Most parents can zip through this phase to joy when they realise they have time left, time to live their life.

Although you may not be able to prevent empty-nest syndrome there are some steps you can take to help you cope with it.

Feathering your empty nest

  • Prepare yourself
    You are going to experience a rollercoaster of emotions, the process of children leaving home is bittersweet.
  • Expect mixed emotions from your child
    They too have to manage the separation and all the emotions that go along with it.
  • Encourage your child to ‘fly away’ from the nest
    If you look like you will fall apart when they leave, they won’t be able to emotionally leave, so encourage them in as guilt-free way as possible.
  • Plan communication
    Talk with your son or daughter about the kind of contact they would like to have, this can help to manage expectations on both sides.
  • Think about you
    make a list of the things you wanted to do but just didn’t have the time to do when the children were home. Maybe it’s a new hobby, travel, a new career or going back to school.
  • Think about your spouse
    This could be a time for you and your spouse to rekindle your romance, have privacy in the house, travel and get to know one another again. Talk about and focus on what is great in your relationship.

The key to really flourishing during and after this transition is to view the freedom associated with an empty nest as an opportunity to reclaim or rediscover the parts of yourself that have been put aside to be a good mum or dad, to create a new life outside the parameter of parenthood.

Revitalise yourself, your marriage, your friendships and enjoy a new, mature relationship with your child.

To find out more about Joanna you can visit her websites www.flourish.lu and www.northstarcoaching.lu or check linkedin.com/in/joannagilbridewest. Contact her at flourishlux@gmail.com.


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