EMPTY NEST SYNDROME
You look after them for the first 18 years of their life. Then, in the third week of August, the brown envelope is opened and the ‘A’ level results are there. University beckons…
In 2017, there was a drop in the number of students going to university. However, UCAS stated around 649,700 young people applied for university and there are a total of around 2.5 million people currently studying at university.
That is an awful lot of empty bedrooms!
For the student, this is an exciting time. Of course, there is apprehension. A touch of anxiety too. But, at last, they have the chance to study a subject they are passionate about. They also have the opportunity to finally make their own decisions, make new friends and stay out all night (maybe).
So, let’s focus on the parents.
The phrase ‘empty nest syndrome’ was first coined back in the 1970s. The saying is defined as a condition, often involving depression, loneliness, etc, experienced by parents living in a home from which the children have grown up and left (Collins English Dictionary).
What does that mean? Depression? Loneliness! Surely the parent has their life back! No more mum or dad taxi. They could rent their child’s room out to Air B’N’B!
Generally, the term empty nest refers to when the last child moves out of the family home. However, it can affect any parent at any time with any child. You will be proud and excited. Your child is an adult and you contributed to their current situation. Isn’t that brilliant! Well… yes and no
When your child.. sorry, young adult.. leaves home, it has been described as time travel. Suddenly, the baby has grown up. Into an adult able to make decisions all by themselves. Where did that time go between babyhood and now!
Empty nest syndrome, up until now, has been mostly focused on the mum. Afterall, mum gave birth, fed and was the sole focus of interest for a few early years. However, mums – being female – are generally good at making friends with fellow mothers. For women, it’s okay to talk. To share. It’s expected!
How about the dads? Anecdotally, the dads are the ones who tell the mums this is great! They will be fine etc. However, back in 2014, the New York Times published an article stating that the empty nest syndrome was ‘harder on fathers than conventional wisdom would have you believe’. Fathers aren’t just seen as the bread winners but as part of the emotional fabric of the family. In the article, many current dads (taking their children to university for the first time) talked about not recalling their own fathers reacting in an emotional way. There is no template to use, from past experiences, as they didn’t really exist.
Dads have the opportunities, more than ever, to have forged a strong bond with their child whilst they grew up. Then they go to university and there is no one to talk to every day. It’s silent! The noise, the conversation, the detritus of every day life suddenly goes.
It’s the end of an era, isn’t it? One of the ways to recognise the empty nest syndrome, is to truly accept it’s a new situation. It’s a fresh challenge for your child. A fresh challenge for you. This is a major life transition for everyone.
Your child is testing out adulthood and starting out making their true decisions, which will affect them. You have to let them be that adult. You already are an adult and have had plenty of practice by now.
But there is no reason why you can’t keep in touch. Though a bit of advice – leave them to Fresher’s Week! You can keep that invisible thread going with your child – especially in the first few months. It wouldn’t do any harm to talk a bit about using social media for communication before they go off. Talk about – maybe – setting up a family Snap Chat or Messenger. That way, it’s private and no one needs to know what is being said other than you and whoever you have added to the group. It’s a thought, anyway.
The empty nest is not new. However, parents are spending more time, than ever, with their children. In a sense, it is learning to let your child go and be that adult you have been preparing them for since they were born.