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  • Writer's pictureHenriette Johnsen

How to deal with the challenges of Empty Nest Syndrome

Part 3 of 3 posts! The last two blog posts have defined empty nest syndrome and explored why it often hits expat parents harder. In this post, I will give tips and ideas on how to deal with the grief of children leaving home as well as how to built a different relationship with your children.

It’s a cliché, but clichés are only clichés because they contain an element of truth: Our children are only on loan to us … and when dealing with empty nest syndrome it might offer some comfort to remind yourself of just that. Children are likely to be (one of) the most valuable parts in the life of parents, but they aren’t to be kept close by forever.

So, what can be done to alleviate the symptoms of Empty Nest Syndrome?

If you find yourself suffering from ENS, some of this advice might help you get through this phase of your life:

  • In preparing for children to leave home, some parents find it helpful to participate in researching and discussing educational as well as accommodational opportunities with their children if they allow it. This allows for parents to feel part of the transition as well as feel more comfortable with their children’s new life.

  • For the trailing spouse, often a stay-at-home-parent, having an empty nest gives an enormous amount of free time and it can be challenging to manage this. Whilst the children are young, many parents long for precious time to themselves so considering how to spend this time before it comes along may make the loss less hard to deal with. Without denying or covering up how you feel, you might want to remember that you are not just a parent.

  • Ease yourself into work

  • Take up a long-lost hobby

  • Study

  • Become self-employed

  • Travel more

  • Learn a new skill

  • Take up exercise

  • See friends and extended family more

  • Use this opportunity to reconnect with your younger self – what you enjoyed prior to starting a family, you may still find yourself passionate about.

  • Be self-compassionate. Whilst others may not feel the same, it’s important to accept that for you, this is an emotionally challenging time which requires a little extra focus on self-care.

  • Recognise and acknowledge your grief – it’s okay to feel upset.

  • Refrain from making big life-changing in the spur of the moment decisions. Wait till the dust has settled and you begin to feel the ground under your feet again.

  • Share your experience with good friends as well as your spouse: How do you feel? How can they support you? And what plans have you got for the future? You will need their support.

  • If you have a partner, your relation may need a little rekindling. Prioritising time together, perhaps taking up a hobby together will help you bond further in this new and next part of your life together.

  • Allow yourself to feel proud of your children’s accomplishments in their adult lives.

  • Remember, that this too is a phase and that you will land on your feet again.

  • If you feel your grief is prolonged seeking help from an empathic therapist might help you process your emotions.

How to define and build a new relationship with your children when they have flown the nest

It’s an almost primal emotion to miss your children when they no longer live with you. Entering parenthood is a life-changing event which for many means a first-time experience of discovering there’s something more important in life than one self. Regardless of the age of the children, once a parent, always a parent. The love, tenderness, care, vulnerability and worry which come with parenthood remains ours to carry and administer forever. And how you administer it when the children have moved into their adult lives, is key for the relationship you now cultivate with them.

Below are some pointers to take into consideration:

  • Likely to be the most challenging, remember that your children need an adult and equal role model, not a house sitter or a curling parent. They need someone to mirror themselves in and to learn from in relation to managing adult life. Furthermore, they need parents who can accommodate and accept that they are on a journey of liberation and independence. It might bring you comfort to know that this will aid them in being fully functioning – you want your children to be able to handle life when you are no longer around.

  • Refrain from being a helicopter parent by being over-involved and “hovering” over your children as this will only prevent your children in developing a healthy sense of well-being and trust in themselves. They need to be allowed to make their own mistakes and experiences; eventually, this will enable them to make good decisions and handle life on their own.

  • This is an exciting time for your children; praise them when they are doing well and only advise them when asked. You will have taught them skills during your time with them; try to trust that these will suffice and that most likely, they will call you should they need your advice.

  • In relation to how much contact to have, some find it helpful to make arrangements around this; others prefer to play by ear. Ask your child which they would prefer.

  • Never show up on their doorstep un-announced; they might prefer to have had a chance to clear out the empty pizza trays and swipe the room for clutter before their parents entering their youth cave. Besides, you also don’t want to embarrass your children if they enjoy the pleasure of an intimate visitor, you haven’t been introduced to.

  • Your children will find comfort in knowing you are happy to pursuit new adventures in life. This also gives you something to talk about, and they won’t feel guilt for having left the family home.

Your child will still need you, but in a different, available, yet more distant and advisory role. Be happy that they have other people to turn to for support and aren’t solely reliant on you – this can be difficult, but is healthy for all parties.

Good luck with redefining yourself as well as your relationship with your adult children – and do enjoy your newly gained freedom without feeling guilty.


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