As your children leave home permanently, how will you face the fact they don’t need you anymore? Mum-of-three Gemma Harrison reports on ‘empty nest’ syndrome and how to deal with this major life change.
Fiery celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay has revealed himself to be a bit of a softie when it comes to his family.
The caustic culinary titan recently spoke quite openly about how upset and lost he felt when his 18-year-old son left home.
‘Empty nest’ syndrome is not a clinical diagnosis, according to the Mayo Clinic, an estimable medical health centre in the US state of Minnesota. It’s a ‘phenomenon in which parents and children feel sadness when the last child leaves home’.
Despite all the blood, sweat and tears you put into bringing up your kids, when the time comes for them to leave home, your initial euphoria of finally having some peace and quiet may soon wear off.
The silence in the home suddenly becomes deafening, any chinks in your relationship with your spouse may become more manifest, and the wrench can simply take a little time to get used to.
Not least, there may be that feeling that a part of your sense of self as a parent and human being has gone i.e. they don’t need you anymore, or do they?
But a partially empty nest can be just as dispiriting. When my own eldest son left to go to university in Scotland, he was just 17; still a boy. Although I’d done my best to prepare him and had shown him basic cookery and laundry skills, how to budget, how to pay rent and bills, how to clean and how to sew a button on his shirt; his usual desultory response was “Yeah, yeah, Mum”.
Once he had settled into his student flatshare, I heard nothing from him for a few weeks (not a phone call, text, email; nothing). I was sad, but realised that as he was clearly standing on his own two feet, I had done my job as a Mum well.
Then, I finally got a call. He didn’t want money (a miracle!), but asked me how I and his dad and siblings were, and by the way, the electricity in his flat kept cutting out (showing him a fuse box was one duty I had delegated to his father [which he had ‘forgotten’]!).
So we were still needed after all, but just in a different way. For some parents it can still be tough going; not just the prospect of re-decorating your children’s rooms but also not having limitless demands on your time.
You might have wished to cut the apron strings on countless occasions but will you feel that way when you finally do? Here are some tips to help you cope:
Accept that this is part of life, for you as well as them. He or she is now a young adult and you need to let go. Focus on what you can do to help them on their way, and remind them (and yourself) that you are there for them.
Any parent knows not to wait around for their offspring to call them. Take the initiative and stay in contact through phone calls, emails, visits, and Skype chats. But don’t nag or ever suggest anything with the words, “You need to…”
Don’t forget your spouse will be suffering too although they may not show it.
Talk about your sadness together, take a holiday, take up a mutual hobby or even start looking at new houses. The kids have moved on so you can too.
If you’ve been a full-time Mum and find that you don’t know what to do with yourself then maybe it’s time to start thinking about you. Find some hobbies, return to college, or undertake some charity or community work.
It can be a difficult time so seek help if you feel depressed by talking to friends or relatives (many of whom will have gone through the same thing). Alternatively, consult your doctor for a possible referral to a counsellor.
Whatever happens, remember that there’s still plenty of parental joy to come: when they graduate, get their first job, get married, and make you a grandparent.