Avoiding ‘empty nest’ syndrome

Posted on: 02 June 2011 by Rhian Mainwaring

Positive ways to cope with children leaving home.

Empty nest

While many people look forward to the day when their beloved offspring strike out on their own and leave the nest, others view it with dread and trepidation.  Not only do they fear the idea of ‘knocking around in an empty house’, they also worry that they will no longer be useful as their parenting role seemingly diminishes. This can affect the parent both emotionally and physically - but it doesn’t have to.

Now is the time to embrace this new opportunity and revel in your new found freedom. Before, your number one concern was the children, you’re now presented with a prime opportunity to put yourself first and pursue all those little projects that you had put off, as life got in the way.

Although the transitional period may be easier if you have a partner or spouse, those who are single or widowers can use this period as a time to implement positive changes in your life.  This is what Edna, 63, did when the youngest of her four daughters left the coop at the ripe age of 37.

“Susan and I had been so used to living with each other, and even though I knew it was coming, her leaving home came as a huge shock.  She purchased a home after years of saving and it was a really emotional time. The situation was probably made worse because she was the baby of the family, so it was initially hard for me to let go.  However, there was only so much moping about that I could take before I actively decided that instead of mourning the gap left by her departure, I’d fill it by making new memories and goals.  I sold the three bedroom home I’d lived in for the last 25 years and downsized to more manageable accommodation within a complex for the over 50’s. I also travelled more and began to split my time between the UK and the Caribbean. Both of these moves allowed me to meet new people and opened up what had been a somewhat limited social circle.

I also used the extra time I had on my hands to reconnect with old friends, and I even enrolled on a computing course to find out more about the internet, which my grandchildren are always talking about. Buying my laptop was the best thing I’ve done in years and something I never would have had the confidence to do a few years ago as I wouldn’t have known where to start, but learning new skills has given me a new lease of life. I’ve got my life back, and it is reassuring to know that in addition to phone calls and visits, my daughters are just an e-mail away.”

Loneliness can hit you at any time in life, but as we get older there are a few notable milestones when it can have a significant impact, and a child leaving home is just one. NHS Choices’ top tips for building up your emotional resilience to help cope with life’s ups and downs include:

Talk to someone

Communication is important, whether it’s with a friend, family member or counselor. Speaking to someone enables you to release tension rather than keep it inside. If you want to talk anonymously, you can call the Samaritans 24 hours a day on 0845 790 9090. See www.nhs.uk/Livewell/counselling for everything you need to know about talking therapies.

 Enjoy yourself

Doing things that you enjoy is good for your emotional health. Watching sports with a friend, having a soak in the bath, or meeting up with friends for coffee are examples of small activities that can make a big difference to your day.

Choose a well-balanced diet

Making healthy choices about your diet can make you feel emotionally stronger. You’re doing something positive for yourself, which lifts your self-esteem, and a good diet enables your brain and body to work efficiently.


Even moderate exercise releases chemicals in the brain that can lift your mood. It can help you to sleep better, have more energy and keep your heart healthy. If you’re trying to reach a healthy weight, exercise will also help you lose those pounds.

For more information visit NHS Choices

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