Today my son goes travelling on his gap year starting by going to watch England hopefully win The Ashes in Sydney.He’ll stay with my cousin in Tasmania for a month before heading down to old friends in South Africa for 3 months.
It’s an exciting time but also a big moment for me watching him leave, symbolically walking out into the very big world by himself.
Here’s an article I have had published round the world that also led to a brilliant chance meeting …
To all parents out there like me today I hope it helps !
It’s funny how life often pops in coincidences and opportunities that surprise and delight us which keep us guessing about the bigger picture….I like to think they are little messages from the Universe to surprise me!
I was on my way up to London to give a talk to some parents about seeing The Empty Nest as an opportunity for new experiences after the kids have left home, when I discovered I’d forgotten my book.
Now anyone who knows me well knows that I am a readaholic and love my books – as I love learning and rarely read novels anymore.
But the bookshelf at Lingfield train station caught my eye and the idea of a book for £1 donation which helps to send disadvantaged children on a holiday seemed worth a look.
Imagine my surprise when I picked up a book called, “Second Chance” by Elizabeth Wrenn and started reading about a woman called Deena Munger who is faced with an almost empty nest, a marriage that’s as stale as week-old bread, who’s having hot flushes that are driving her mad, and who is carrying twenty extra pounds that have just sort of crept up on her!
Deena is a newly turned 50 year old who feels invisible and wonders when she started to disappear…. I was fascinated……
To the astonishment of her family, Deena volunteers to raise a Guide dog called Heloise and suddenly her world is turned upside down by her four legged friend, and she embarks on a journey of self discovery as she is forced to re-evaluate her life she faces life after her kids have left.
I often coach Mums, rather than Dads, who face this new phase of their lives with great trepidation and often great anxiety.
But by asking some gentle questions and with a slight change in perspective I help them re – focus, re- frame and re- discover who they are now and where they want to go in this new transition from mother to a more positive, relaxed and confident woman in her own right…..
It’s completely normal and natural for a mum to feel some sadness when children leave home.
It is quite normal to have a little weep – or even go into your absent child’s bedroom and sit there for a bit remembering times gone by, happy memories or miss the noise and the laughter and even regret all the nagging you did over the untidy bedroom and would easily now swap for your child to be back living at home again!
So don’t be ashamed of your feelings – they are natural.
But if you experience any of the following severe symptoms, you should seek professional help – especially if they go on for longer than a week as you may be depressed and need some support for a little while.
• You feel your useful life has ended.
• You are crying excessively.
• You’re so upset and low that you don’t want to mix with your friends or go to work.
If you know that your sadness is overwhelming you, go and chat to your GP to get your feelings into perspective and back into balance.
I often find that women suffering the feelings of the empty nest are often going through other major changes too, such as the really unpleasant hot flushes or they are trying to cope with their increasingly dependent elderly parents which is a huge added burden and highly stressful mix to the situation.
It can be a difficult time, and it really isn’t a failure to ask for some help, support, or advice to help you cope. The Amarant Trust, charity is devoted to helping women going through the menopause.
ADVICE FOR THE EMPTY NEST
• When your child leaves home, you’ll obviously want to keep in touch with them but don’t try too hard or overdo it as it can set up resentment and block the relationship that you want to now build.
I remember my own mum making me feel really uncomfortable when I didn’t ring often enough, come home often enough, or spend enough time with her and I even remember just feeling massively guilty about going off to University in the first place ! • Be sensitive to the fact that your child is trying to take a big, significant step in their life – and needs you to let them go, find their feet and learn to cope without consulting you all the time. Trust te fact that you’ve done a great job and they have your values and will cope. But be there if they wobble!
• The more you cling or show that you’re upset, the more they will resist contacting you as they will feel smothered, trapped and overwhelmed by your intensity.
• Try texting or using email instead of phoning. You’ll be able to still keep in touch without being too intense. Use humour to lighten the whole tone and mood of your communications too – it’s a great lubricant to relax everyone.
• Listen more than you ask….. and keep your questions light so your conversations don’t feel like interrogations !
• Lean on your friends. Most likely some of them are going through exactly the same thing or have already gone through it, so meet for a coffee or a glass of wine, go to the cinema, or take up salsa but try not to join the pity party and end up talking negatively – hang out with your positive friends and try new things together and ask how they handled it.
• Be kind to yourself and think of some treats that nurture YOU – go for a massage, have a scented bath or buy some lovely cream or perfume to make you feel good.
• Take time to build up a new relationship with your partner or husband – re connect to a time before you had kids and explore what you’d like to do now together .
• Start to take up a new hobby or interest to keep your own life going – lots of mums do voluntary work, start their own business or learn a new skill. (Like Deena in “Second Chance who took on to train a guide dog.)See life as opening up, not closing down.
I have also found that some Mums have found doing something practical for their kids helps them feel better and more useful while they are learning to let go:
• buy some credit for your child’s s mobile phone or a voucher for itunes
• try to agree a time once a week perhaps when you can both have a chat to each other on the phone so you can look forward to keeping in touch.
• email some funny news of what’s happening at home.
• send funny pictures.
All of life is a letting go from the moment you play peek a boo with your kids to the time they climb into the car to wave you goodbye they are learning that they are separate from you but try focusing on your wonderful achievements and that your relationship and role is NOT coming to an end ….. just CHANGING.
From toddler to teenager to young adult parenting is a series of letting go moments and change – from starting nursery to moving on to secondary school…. it’s all about change.
I never grew up in the eyes of my Mum really as she used to say when I arrived back with my own kids for Sunday lunch sometimes, “Oh Frank, the children are here!!”
Celebrate what you got right; embrace the new ways of being a parent to your adult child and build the memories that will still last their lifetime.
Remember this famous quote that you have given your children.
“There are two lasting bequests that we can give our children:
One is roots, the other is wings.”
~ Hodding Carter
And as a further surprise….
As I travelled up to London to talk to lots of radio stations around the UK about the feelings and emotions that parents go through when their kids leave home, whether it’s to go to College, to live in their own place or even when they move in with their boyfriend or girlfriend based on this article.
Imagine my surprise when I had to move my coat and umbrella to make room for ROBBIE WILLIAMS who came in, sat down and said, “Hi!”
I went red said, “Good to meet you” and went off to do my live slots talking about Hot Flushes, Hormones and Empty Nests.
My 16 year old daughter was going to come with me but I though she might be bored listening to me so she didn’t come ……………….!
I’m saying nothing !!
The only regret was that I wasn’t allowed to take a picture with him as his PR people didn’t want to create a fuss around him.
Ah well WHAT a memory eh?
It just goes to show you – live in the moment -expect great things to happen to you and smile and I hope you find this article helpful as you come to terms with the changes taking place in your life more positively
Sue Atkins is a Parenting Expert who offers practical guidance for bringing up happy, confident, well behaved children. She is also the author of “Raising Happy Children for Dummies” one in the famous black and yellow series published worldwide and the highly acclaimed Parenting Made Easy CDs. She regularly appears on BBC Breakfast and The Jeremy Vine Show on BBC Radio 2 and her parenting articles are published all over the world.
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Sue Atkins the Parenting Expert
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