One mama shares her coping tips for ’empty nest syndrome’ – the sense of loss a parent feels when a child leaves the nest. If you are going through a similar experience, we hope you’ll find solace in her words.
Sam Rice is a British cookbook author and mother to two teens who is based here in Singapore. Sam opens up about her experience of ’empty nest syndrome’ as her eldest leaves to the UK for university for the first time.
This month has been a tough one for many of us mums in Singapore as we tearfully wave goodbye to our older children; off to start their adult lives at university or college abroad. Most are travelling alone because we aren’t able to accompany them as we would otherwise have planned to do. Another rite of passage for our families taken away by Covid-19.
So, how does it feel when your child finally flies the nest? Yes, there are tears but there’s also a sense of pride in a job well done – they turned out OK! There’s excitement for their future but also fear at finally having to let go – how will they feed themselves/stay safe/cope on their own/all of the above?! And there’s a physical sense of loss too, the phrase ‘a heavy heart’ could have been invented for this moment.
My son is heading back to the UK – he’s ready, it’s time for him to spread his wings, and thankfully I still have a younger child at home to keep me occupied. But I can’t deny there is a large son-shaped hole in our lives right now. His room is bare and the house is so quiet (we are playing the radio all day to compensate). Not knowing when we will be able to see him again, because of all the border restrictions, makes it doubly hard.
As parents we know that our kids will leave some day, and indeed it’s our job to make sure they do. So it’s something I have been thinking about and mentally preparing for a while now. If you are in a similar position or have a child leaving home in the near future, here are my tips for making the transition as positive as possible and learning to love your emptying nest.
Empty Nest Syndrome: 6 Coping Tips
1. Keep busy
If you work, this probably won’t be too tricky as your day-to-day routine won’t change much, but in the first few weeks after they leave it’s best not to dwell. Keep yourself occupied by seeing friends, keeping fit (this also helps to keep a positive mindset) or if you like to cook like me, spending time in the kitchen. Another great idea is to treat yourself to some ‘me-time’ – visit the salon, book a massage, visit a gallery, anything to lift the spirits.
2. Set up regular contact times
With messaging and video chat capabilities we are never more than a click away from our kids. It’s comforting to remember that, but equally we have to give them space in the first few weeks after leaving. The last thing they want is a needy mum messaging them every five minutes. They’ve been building up to this moment of independence for a while now so let them take the lead on how much contact they want to have initially. This will vary hugely from child to child. Once they’ve settled into their new surroundings, you can set a regular time to chat.
3. Embrace the new family dynamic
Whether it’s your first child leaving home or your last, your family dynamic will change. This is a great opportunity to reset and shift your focus. When an older sibling leaves, younger brothers and sisters often step out from their shadow and really blossom. You will have more energy to devote to them and more time to spend doing activities based on their interests.
I have a younger daughter who is into design, so we completely redecorated her room. We planned it together; she loved choosing the colour scheme and all the furnishings and it was a really positive way to ring the changes and make her feel invested in.
4. Get a pet
If you are animal lovers and in a position to get a family pet, this can really help fill the gap left by your departing offspring. We aren’t experienced pet owners, so we are easing ourselves in with Doughball the hamster. My daughter absolutely loves it and it has been a good distraction now that her brother isn’t there to annoy her anymore.
5. Take up something new
You might have a little more time on your hands now with one less child to run around after, so use it to invest in yourself. Perhaps there’s a course you’ve been wanting to do? Why not take up a new sport or join a gym. Many of my empty-nester pals have started down new paths, becoming yoga or Pilates teachers, setting up businesses, re-training to be counsellors or health coaches. It’s never too late to follow your passions.
6. Give it time
As the cliché goes, time is a great healer, so go easy on yourself. It’s best not to keep going into their bedroom, gazing tearfully at their old teddy, slumped sadly on the shelf. Close the door and leave it a while – the first two weeks are the worst.
Rather than a nest half-empty, I’m choosing to see mine as half-full – the start of a new chapter where I can focus more on my daughter and do the things I enjoy, including spending more time cooking. In fact, I think I’ll head to the kitchen right now and with my son no longer here, that’s one less fussy eater to please!