Parents find it hard adjusting after children leave the home. However, many grasp it as an exciting opportunity to explore new possibilities, says Geraldine Walsh.
There has long been a debate whether having children makes a person happier with varying arguments and a rare defined answer.
Research tells us parents are indeed happier but only when children fly the nest. Research from Heidelberg University in Germany uncovered parents of adult children have greater life satisfaction and less depressive symptoms.
It’s not easy to say this is a direct correlation to adult kids moving out and the challenges of parenthood easing but perhaps there is something to it after the immediate sense of loss lifts with the change.
Joanna Fortune, psychotherapist and Author of 15 Minute Parenting, says as humans we are social beings. “Children are often a source of social support and community for their parents,” she says, “in so far as they offer a gateway into a school parents’ network with regular communication. When your child grows up and moves on, many parents feel the loss of this network.”
This new phase became about living authentically for Anne Marie Ferris. She set up her company, Having A Laf, with her new partner after her four children emptied from the home and life in her 50s became a priority. Parenting can be all encompassing but as the years go on, the strings loosen, possibly leaving us a little unsure of what to do.
“When my children were young,” says Anne Marie, “I was fully engaged in their lives and invested in each assignment, music lesson, and test. I loved being busy, organised, exhausted but at the same time completely happy and fulfilled. College brought about the empty nest and new feelings of loss, loneliness and hope. I really missed them, and I felt a bit lost and left behind but I soon adjusted.
"They have my unconditional support and I know I have theirs. I have more happiness, less pressure and less depression now. I’m happier than I’ve ever been.”
For life coach, Mary MacRory, it’s not as simple as an empty nest: “The happiness curve is much more complex. There was ecstasy when my babies were born healthy and happy. As life challenges were faced like breastfeeding, bullying, trying to steer them to appreciate the value of education and earning their own living, obviously stresses increased.”
Mary has one adult son at home who is due to travel after his apprenticeship, and an adult daughter living in a self-funded extension beside the family home. On the verge of an empty nest, Mary acknowledges that this is not necessarily a valid indicator for life happiness.
“I am not waiting for them to move out to be happy,” she says, “But I have less anxiety now about their education, careers and lifestyle choices as I know they are grounded young adults.”
Business owner Maureen McCowen always had the expectation her children would leave home once university came calling. Her happiness is not because her sons are no longer in her house but rather because their departure allowed her the space to create her own identity independent of being Mum.
“There was an emptiness in the house,” she says, “but also a sense of freedom. I had the time to examine who I was and what I wanted in life. I took a career break, and set up my business, Soft Skill Success. When the boys grew up and moved out, it gave me the freedom to explore opportunities I hadn’t thought of. I’m very happy in my new business and a key part of that is due to the support from my sons.”
These mixed emotions of adjusting to a new life without the ordinary hectic schedules of children, seem a temporary stumbling block before life in an empty nest becomes the norm. Claire Ronan, radio presenter at Ocean FM, found it a huge adjustment but with it came that same sense of freedom when her five children flew the nest.
It seems a large adjustment when your children become equals as adults, says Claire. The relationship deepens and there is a new kind of respect. “If my kids disagree with me,” she says, “in most cases, I am really interested in why.” Claire recognised being a stay at home mum for 25 years meant she needed to fulfil her own life and look after her own happiness. We often see parenting as the epitome of happiness but claiming our happiness is our responsibility.
Fortune says it stands to reason when a large burden of responsibility is lifted, and you have time to invest in yourself, that you would be happier. “If this correlates with your children moving out it makes sense. But I don’t think relocating your teenagers, as tempting as that might be, would illicit the same results. There is a sense of personal accomplishment and therefore happiness when your children have reached adulthood and are ready to live independently of you.”