When kids leave home, it can be devastating for many parents, who might experience sadness, loss of meaning and purpose, and anxiety about their children’s welfare. Here are some strategies to help you through.
According to the Australian Institute of Family Studies, more young adults are living with their parents for longer than ever before. And, if the forecasts are to be believed, it’s a trend that’s here to stay .
It can be even more jarring for parents then, when children finally do leave the family home. This is particularly true if you’ve lived together as adults for a relatively long time, and have formed very established and familiar routines with one another.
While you might experience positive and proud feelings when children move on to start lives of their own, if you find yourself feeling rather spiritless or forlorn more often than not, you’re not alone. That’s why it has a name – the empty nest syndrome. And while it’s not a clinical disorder or diagnosis, it can still make you feel very down, with many saying they feel a deep sense of loneliness and loss of identity.
Dealing with these significant changes at home presents a good opportunity to start focusing more on yourself, your own hobbies, and your relationship. Here are some tips that might help.
1. Focus on your needs
As a parent, you’ve probably spent much of your life being a caregiver and putting your children’s needs before your own.
But when a child leaves the ‘nest’, it’s the perfect opportunity to prioritise your own desires and interests, reclaim your time, and rediscover the things you enjoyed before having kids.
Prioritising yourself involves doing the things you love but didn’t always have time for. Think about the people you want to see more of, places you could go, books you’ve always wanted to read, restaurants you’re keen to visit, and projects you’ve always wanted to try your hand at.
Make a list of everything you hope to achieve and give yourself permission to get excited about them. Remember though, now that you come first, this list can be tackled at your own pace and in your own time.
2. Rekindle your relationship
As you likely experienced when you were a new parent, romantic relationships can come up against some challenges during the shift into parenthood. But many people don’t realise it can also happen when you’re transitioning out of being a carer of kids at home as well.
Once your children have moved out, it’s the ideal chance to reconnect and re-engage with your partner – emotionally, physically and intimately.
Exploring why you fell in love with each other, while spending quality time together, is a wonderful way to revitalise your relationship and plan for your future. Especially now that almost any night can potentially be ‘date night’.
Rekindling your relationship doesn’t have to be hard or expensive . Small activities and gestures such as cooking together, going for walks, and showing affection and appreciation are sometimes all that’s needed.
3. Take up new hobbies, learning and indulge in some self-care
Engaging in hobbies and life-long learning are great ways to enhance your health, reduce stress, and help you maintain a work/life balance.
If you’re keen to find new hobbies or learning ideas, it’s good to list the activities that currently help you feel happy and balanced. Have a think about what’s missing, what you’d like to do more of, and what new activities might meet your spiritual and physical needs. Ask friends for their advice, check out what local community groups and colleges have to offer, and consider things you haven’t tried before, but have always been curious about – such as running clubs, volunteering programmes and yoga classes.
When it comes to your partner, remember to take up hobbies both as individuals and together. Having both separate and shared interests will mean you’ve got something to connect and talk about, especially if things are feeling a little quieter around the house and you find yourself talking about the kids less often.
4. Spend time volunteering or seek out a new community
Getting involved in your community can be hugely beneficial – for you, your family and those around you. This involvement doesn’t have to be difficult either. You can help out at your own pace and in an area that’s right for you. In turn, volunteering can teach you new skills, boost your confidence, and give you a sense of purpose.
The scope of volunteering is endless: you could get involved with your local sports club, community garden, political party, library or help those most vulnerable. Then there’s animal shelters, new migrant groups, service organisations such as Lions Clubs and Rotary clubs, places of worship, learning programmes and much more.
For those who love the outdoors, many local councils offer a local Bushcare Volunteer programs, which is a great way to get fresh air, learn more about the environment and conservation, and meet other like-minded people.
5. Prioritise quality family time
Just because your kids have moved out doesn’t mean you can’t see or chat to them regularly. This is just the next stage in fostering loving and respectful family relationships.
Organising weekly or fortnightly meals and outings will help strengthen family ties and communication, and allow continued bonding. Although you may miss them between meetings, seeing your kids build their own life — while letting them know you’re still there for them — can be wonderful and exciting.
They’re out of your house, but certainly not out of your life.
If you’re struggling with your mental health, or your relationship is experiencing more issues after your kids have moved out, professional help is always available. Relationships Australia NSW run regular group programs across NSW throughout the year, which cover a wide range of topic areas, and will help you build skills in resilience, emotional wellbeing, and fostering strong relationships with those around you. Find out more about our group-based Relationship Education Programs here.