Empty nest can bring heartbreak

It’s natural, but that’s no solace when your child moves out, says Rachel Borrill.

IT is the time of year that parents dread. They are proud of their child as they wave them goodbye for college, but then they have to cope with the profound emotions of returning home to an empty nest.

Two years ago, when Marian O’Connor’s oldest child, Gavin, 20, left home because of his job, she was “desperately upset’’ and it took her a long time to adjust to his absence. Now, her daughter Shauna, 19, is starting college, and Marian, who is divorced, knows she will be “heartbroken’’ again.

“Her course in community work means she will transfer to Cork, I know it is all part of growing up, but when she goes I will really miss her. We have a very strong bond, so I will be heartbroken,’’ she says.

“When Gavin left, it was desperate. There was a huge void. He is very vocal and had a big strong presence in the house. He’s a tall lad — 6ft — so it was like there was a massive vacuum. But now, looking back, I know he was ready to move on.’’

Empty-nest syndrome is common, for mothers, in particular, who describe it as feeling queasy, hollow and missing their children desperately and wondering how to fill the vacuum.

Marian, an administration manager from Killarney, also questioned her role, and kept herself busy, so she did not have to think about Gavin’s leaving.

“I felt my role was depleting very rapidly. I didn’t feel of any use at all. It definitely stirs up a lot of different emotions in you, that it is a sign of things to come, because you realise my second child will soon be gone, too,’’ she says.

Last Christmas, Marian had a “taste’’ of her life ahead, when Shauna went to Thailand for a month. It was the longest they had been apart, and Marian says she was “very emotional’’ at the airport.

“But after a couple of days, I thought to myself: ‘This is my future, time on my own and I must enjoy it.’ Then I thought: ‘Yes, I can do this, it is not going to be as daunting as it appears.’

“My advice would be to keep busy, try something different, try doing something that you have always thought about doing, but never have the time or courage,’’ she says.

Celia Dodd, author of The Empty Nest: How to Survive and Stay Close to your Adult Child, says many women believe they will “never be as happy” as they were watching their children grow up, but they should move forward and not have regrets.

“Life goes on, and I have gradually found that this new phase can be weirdly exciting,’’ says Celia, a mother of three. “It makes you question everything: your relationships, your achievements, your work, how you enjoy yourself, how much time you waste on admin.

“And, like many empty-nesters, now that the dust has settled, I’ve got more energy. Almost without realising it, my energy had been absorbed by other people’s emotional, physical and psychological needs for 20 years.’’

For Marian, positivity is the key to surviving an empty nest, and also ensuring that your children know they are welcome home, at any time.

“I think it can be very daunting for kids heading off now. It is a whole new world for them, and it might not work out, they might hate it.

“But if they know that they can always come home, confide, get a hug and a kiss, and that the door is always open, that is very important. And it makes you feel better, too, knowing they will come back, that their homing devices are still working,’’ she says.

¦ The Empty Nest: How to Survive and stay Close to your Adult Child, by Celia Dodd; £9.99. www.amazon.co.uk


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