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How to cope when your child flies the coop

If your youngest child is about to move out of home, be prepared to feel an array of emotions that run the gamut from sad to purposeless. Commonly known as ‘empty nest syndrome’, feeling down after your child has flown the proverbial coop is completely normal. After all, whether they’re the only child or the baby of the family, they undoubtedly changed and enriched your household dynamic, so it’ll be an odd feeling once they’re gone.  

So, to help you cope with (and even make the most out of!) empty nest syndrome, here are a few tips for navigating this new season in your life.  

1. Stay busy  

Raising children is busy work! Now you’ve got a bit more time on your hands, it’s only natural to want to fill it with activities. Depending on whether and how often you work, take up a new or forgotten hobby, join a fitness group and take up trivia or book club. If you feel a bit purposeless, set yourself some goals that tie into your personal growth. Doing the things you love is the quickest way to inject a little gratitude and refocus on the positives.  

2. Reconnect with yourself (and your circle)

During your child-rearing years, you may have found it difficult to keep in touch with friends. Get yourself back on that group text chain and reconnect with old friends, who may even be going through the same thing with their own children. Busy school drop-offs, practices and constant activities are no more, so you’ve got no excuse! This is also a great time to get back in touch with what makes you ‘you’ by self-reflecting and prioritising personal growth.  

3. Resist the urge to ‘check in’ on your child

As your child navigates their new season of independence, with all the newfound freedoms and responsibilities it brings, it may be very tempting to check in and see how they’re going. But, it’s important that you resist the urge (at least, as best you can)! Think back to when you were their age and appreciate how exciting and evolutionary this new chapter in their lives is. 

To keep your nerves at bay, check in with your teen before they head off to university and work out an agreed time and frequency of keeping in touch. They’ll look forward to your once or twice-weekly phone, video call or in person catch ups, and setting these boundaries will be healthy for everyone involved.  

4. Reach out

Change is difficult, no matter how much you try to see the positives. It might be tempting to bury whatever you’re feeling, but it’s crucial that you don’t mask or push away those raw emotions. Validate and accept what you’re going through and really feel your feelings – this is the first step towards moving forward.  

If you’ve got family or friends who understand empty best syndrome, lean on them and chat about how they’ve worked through it. Chances are, they’ll be more than happy to help. It may also be worth seeking out help from a mental health professional.   

Empty nest syndrome might feel all-consuming right now, but eventually, it will pass, and you’ll come to appreciate your new role as a parent of adult children. Until then, acknowledge your feelings, stay busy and keep in touch to make this transitional time a little bit easier. 

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