I recognise and acknowledge that empty nest is not just a phenomenon experienced by parents whose child is leaving and moving to university.
After the warmth of the summer holidays, receiving exam results and finalising choices for the future, September brings with it new beginnings and transitions.
Over the next few weeks there will be countless streams of cars crammed full of bedding, crockery, pots and pans and other items from home, taking to the roads and transporting their children and possessions either back to, or to university for the first time. If you're really lucky and have left behind the extra items that might come in handy, there's just enough room for your child and yourselves to be shoehorned in too! Excitement, trepidation, anxiety are crammed in the car too, both for the young adult embarking on their new journey, and parents alike, a vehicle full of mixed emotions.
Having safely left your child in their accommodation, and usually wiping away a few (or a lot of) tears the journey back home begins. What now? Who am I? What should I do? I'll miss them... These and so many more questions and emotions fill the spaces where the bedding, pots and pans sat.
After we'd dropped off both our daughters at uni all these questions bombarded us, I realised that this was what they meant by empty nest. The girls are now in years 2 and 3 of uni, but this hits me each year, who am I now that both the girls have moved on to their next adventure in life? Up until now I knew I was mum; dependable, always there, teaching/nagging, supporting and loving both the girls unconditionally. This has not changed, however as time has moved on I realise that our relationships with one another has. They are now independent (most of the time - we still get the odd text asking how to defrost or cook an item, or is it ok to wash/tumble dry a specific item of clothing) they make their own choices and decisions - as it should be. Both have partners who are their go-to person and that is fantastic, however as a mum it has taken me a while (and I still am) adjusting to the change in our relationship, especially if they are going through a difficult time and all you can do is be there for them, no longer being able to just make it all better. It'll never be how it was, it is different, still positive, beautiful, the best job in the world, just different.
I tried to find and read numerous articles so I felt less alone in this new role and how I was feeling. Some were helpful, some not so, some even seemed to ridicule how I was feeling - there were undertones of 'pull yourself together' - or perhaps that was just my sensitivities. Now that I am getting used to how things are I found that working through some of these 'tips' can be helpful, they might help you too:
Keep in touch - Even though your child has moved away you can still keep in contact via phone calls, emails, texts or video chats. However, they are trying to build new friendships and support networks so they need time and space too! Arrange to visit - and be prepared that this usually entails filling the fridge and taking them out for something decent to eat, but nevertheless it's still quality time!
Talk to someone - If you're finding it difficult adjusting to having an empty nest talk to loved ones, your partner will possibly be experiencing something similar (whether their emotions and feelings are the same or different - just as we are all individuals we all experience things differently, neither is right or wrong) or friends in a similar situation - they'll understand. Share how you are feeling, it's normal to feel sad, lonely and lost (or excited and happy), whatever you're feeling is ok. If you start to experience a low mood or feel depressed, consult your GP or seek counselling.
It's ok to feel positive - You now no longer have a young adult asking for your undivided attention at all hours of the day and night. Using the extra time and energy you now might have, you could invest it in some personal interests or hobbies you have had on the back burner, or focus on getting to know who you are now. Some individuals nurture their relationship with their partner, that might have been put on hold, and explore the delights of being together and 'child-free'. Whatever you choose to do might help you adapt to this major life change.
Give yourself time - Most importantly, give yourself time to adjust and accept this new phase in your own and your child's lives; acceptance to be with the ‘not knowing’, accepting and trusting this new process and truly learning to let go. There will be a mix of emotions. Focus on what you can do to help your child succeed they do leave home. Feel proud that you have enabled this young adult to grow and mature into an independent person.
I am a counsellor who wants to empower individuals to be the best version of themselves.