February 6, 2024

Flying the coop: How children leaving home can affect our mental health

This has been coming for some time. You took them to the open days, bought them the books, made the classic jokes to your friends about them being back in no time to raid the fridge. Your child leaving for university is no news to anyone. But now that it’s happened, you don’t feel quite right.

You may be experiencing what is known as Empty Nest Syndrome - a feeling of loss after children leave home. It is linked to grief, as those going through it commonly feel a loss of both identity and purpose.

This makes sense. As a parent, you spend more or less 18 years with a constant reminder of the fact that you are raising a child. Even though they have been gaining independence for years, you may still see yourself as, primarily, a caregiver and provider for them. When that presence disappears, it makes you challenge who you are and what your place in life is.

It should be noted that this is by no means the case for all. Some parents can have an immediate appreciation for the liberation that comes with having more time on their hands - it says nothing less about them as providers.

However, some have reported various symptoms for varying timeframes. These commonly include low mood, loneliness and increased anxiety; others have reported feelings of guilt and lack of appetite.

If you are finding it hard to shake these symptoms, there are certain strategies that you may want to try:

Naming and acceptance:

Identifying what you’re going through, not just to yourself but to others, can make it easier to process. Speak to friends and family about how you’re feeling. Even if it’s not something they can relate to, getting it off your chest can be cathartic.

Throw yourself into something new:

Not many would argue that additional time and energy is a bad thing. Get out there. Do something you’ve always wanted to do, or do something you’ve never even once considered doing. Why not?

Keep in close contact:

Leaving home for the first time can be as emotionally challenging for the child as it is for the parent. Don’t be afraid to send them regular messages. Some will appreciate a bit of space, and some will just be too busy loving life as a fresher, but many will be thankful they have a familiar voice to talk to.

Alternatively, speaking to a therapist may be the most effective solution for you. Feeling like you’re losing your identity is scary for anyone, so go get a better understanding of who you are. As strange as it sounds, self-exploration is often best done in the company of someone else, and therapy has been shown to be a good treatment to the symptoms associated to Empty Nest Syndrome.

If you’d like to hear more about how therapy might work for you, please get in touch at hello@helloself.com.

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