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Coping with empty nest syndrome

WebMD Feature
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

The last 18 years have been a blur of nappies and nursery rhymes through to parties and exams with nativity plays and sports days dotted in between. Then one day it's all quiet, and your children have gone.

When your children leave home, whether it's off to university or to move into their first flat or house, parents can get empty nest syndrome.

Their departure can throw up a range of emotions. Pride that they are doing what they have always wanted to do, worry that you won't be there to protect them anymore, and sadness that it's an end of an era.

It can also make you question your own life. You've always been at the centre of your children's world, teaching them to walk and talk. Being their confidant and looking after them when they've been ill. Now it feels as though they don't need you anymore. What's your role now? When the children leave, it can also have an impact on your marriage or relationship as the family dynamics change.

Feelings of loss

"When my child decided to fly the nest and travel to the other side of the world my experience was a mixture of joy and utter loss," says Jackie, a mum of three from Oxfordshire. "I felt initial happiness that I had done my job and raised a confident young lady who felt equipped enough to go forward and realise her dreams. This was accompanied, however, by overwhelming sadness, which I can only describe as being on a par with a bereavement. I felt like I'd been uprooted and deposited within a re-made world where life would never quite be the same again," adds Jackie.

Too much time and space

Fiona from Shropshire has two daughters both are now at university.

"Children leaving home is a bit like watching an episode of Dr Who: you don’t really understand what’s going on and it’s all about space and time," explains Fiona.

"In terms of space, everything suddenly feels too big: the kitchen table is too big for just two of you, there are rooms you now never go in so the house feels too big. Time is an odd one. This can also feel too big. The hours and hours that you previously spent tidying up shoes and books, doing laundry, cooking, discussing life, moaning about teachers and chatting about Game of Thrones are now yours to do exactly what you want with. Great, you think. But then you realise you don’t quite know what to do with those hours as you have spent the last 20-odd years not having the spare time to think about what to do in your spare time!" says Fiona.

It's not just mums who miss their offspring. Rob's son and daughters have all moved out. His son was the last to go. "Sure I miss doing Dad stuff, like giving lifts and watching rubbish films together. When they were in their late teens we had lots of laughs and the house was always noisy and filled with the kids and their friends and now it seems pretty quiet. When they come back it reverts to old times but now I like the contrast. Sounds awful but I like spending a night in with my wife and a bottle of red, without worrying about who's getting a lift home and who needs picking up," says Rob.

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