Samantha De Bono Counselling Bromley

Bromley & Harley Street

tel: 07588 931 401

email me

Empty Nest Syndrome - Ways to deal with it

When that time has come for your last baby bird to fly the nest, it is often a loss that many underestimate until it actually happens.  Let's face it, by the time your youngest leaves home, you've had so many years of moaning at them for being untidy, lazy, selfish, ungrateful, noisy, annoying... that the thought of them going isn't all that bad. But when a child actually leaves home, it's often very difficult for a parent.

I know only too well how hard it is going to be to finally cut those apron strings, but taking the time to get my thoughts and emotions around the change, I realise that it doesn't have to be the end of my life, it can be a positive change and one that brings about a new life for me too.

I'm not denying that I dread the first morning that I wake up in the house without my boys there.  Come on, of course I do, they've been my main priority for 22 years, so not having them around is definitely going to feel like a loss, but my plan is to get my head and heart around the change.  I want to make this transition my friend.

Here's what I plan to do and anyone going through the same as me, you're welcome to come aboard my transition train.

We need to:

  • Normalise: it's okay to feel emotional with the situation at first, so if we want to cry, then we cry. Simple. But also keep reminding ourselves that we have done an amazing job of nurturing our children to become autonomous human beings, who are excited and capable of living in the big wide world and are not suffering with a failure to launch. If they had no plans other than to live with us, then we would have done a terrible job of raising our children. 
  • Time boundary: we know it's going to be hard, but we also know that we have to come to terms with the reality that we knew this time would come, our son/daughter is no longer a child and is moving into another phase of his/her life.  A phase that is psychologically and emotionally necessary and you know what? We need to move to the next phase as well.  We need to encourage our child to start his/her life and re-evaluate ours.  Who are we now? What do we want to do now? What have we wanted to try/learn/do/explore but haven't, because we've had children? Allow ourselves the time to cry but there has to be a boundary around it, we can't sink into a hole and stop living our life. Existing isn't good enough, we have to have a point at which we say "okay, now it's time to enjoy my life too".
  • Our new role: being a mother has been a role I took very seriously and I loved it. I loved caring for my boys and looking after them, cooking for them, clothing them and being at home for them.  Over the years I have been adjusting to the changes in my role and I see that it's not gone, I'm not redundant, it's just evolved and I believe it will continue to do so.  I haven't been making everyday decisions for them for some time - like what to eat or what to wear - but I'm still their mother and will have a role hopefully in their bigger life decisions involving career, choosing a partner, etc. I'll have to get to grips with parenting from a distance and in a different way.  I hope to make my new role a mentoring one, where they can benefit from my experience of life as well as my love for them.
  • Avoid black & white thinking: there's a big difference between a child running away from home and a child leaving home.  The former means there's something wrong, the latter means there's something right. Our sons or daughters aren't running away from us, they are moving toward their own life. Remember the times when they were little, and they were scared of doing something for the first time without us? What did we do? Cry and break down? of course we didn't, we encouraged them enthusiastically to do it alone, we told them it would be fine and how proud we were of them.  We can't go back on that now can we.  All those times, we were preparing them for this moment.
  • Guilt tripping: I think it would be easy to continuously call and want to be part of their lives away from us and if they are getting on with and enjoying their lives without mum or dad, we are at risk of feeling rejected, but don't let's fall into that trap. Saying things like "I never see you and you never call me" is only going to make them feel guilty which will either cause them to back away even more or hold them back from getting on with the journey they are entitled to be on.  We don't want to sabotage our child's success by making him/her worry about how we're doing.
  • Keeping in Touch: Skype and Whattsap are great ways to interact.  They are light, breezy and easy ways to stay connected without forcing our children to have lengthy conversations with us that make them feel obligated. Encourage playful connection with photo's and jokes rather than constantly wanting to know the ins and outs of their life away us. Just think how lucky we are, once upon a time, there were no mobiles, or skype or facetime, only pay phones for students to keep in contact, those days must have been hell for parents.
  • Finding Me/Finding you: I plan to start participating in more activities that enhance my life; volunteering, going to the movies, finding new hobbies, going on courses.  Because all my personal time has been spent with my boys, I know this is going to take some work, but I know I have to find pleasure in things that don't involve my family.  If, like me, you've got a bit of time before your child leaves home, try to be proactive in finding new things to enjoy without them. Gently start to exist outside the home, outside your role as a parent.  Let your children see that you are positive about the next phase in your life, that way, you are leading by example, which will be encouraging for them to see and for them to emulate.