Empty Nest and Covid Fears

This is the time of year when kids are turning into adults and heading off to three or four years at uni. Now most year most kids can’t wait to get away. This years seems a little different after lock downs and working from home many are feeling a bit nervous of going out on their own. I have also spoken with a some who were supposed to be having a gap year and then became stuck at home with no where to go. Most years it is the parents who are seeking help with being able to let go now they are asking me how they can encourage and support their kids to leave and go to uni.

As a parent you spend years developing your family. Your kids have good bits and bad bits. There are times when you could happily strangle them all and times when you love their bones. Then when you have learned to live and even enjoy the madness that is called ‘family’ hey, they go and leave home and go off to uni and become independent. The fact that they have been leaving their junk all around the house, just like a tree shedding leaves in autumn, means nothing, you just want them back. The bird has flown and the nest is empty. Suddenly your role has changed, or maybe even come to an end. This is the time when the answer to the question ‘who are you?’ suddenly changes.

The rites of passage

The senses of the changing role of self happens to us all though it is more so for women. When a woman marries she most times changes her name and as she normally takes the part as of head of the house, often without the man even realising it, she has changed her role. Then the first child comes along and another set of changes begin and each time the answer to that question ‘who am I?’ changes. As the last child is born, as the last child goes to school, as the last child leaves school, as the last child moves on to university, as the last child leaves home. Each stage presents us with a different sense of who we are. For full-time mums the impact of these changes can be much greater.  

We live in an odd world. As primates we would be living in extended family groups. When change happened there would have been a natural stress management provided by the various relatives supporting each other. Even when your our own children had grown up there would be new young ones coming through in the extended family. In our odd little nuclear units of mum, dad and the kids aloneness and isolation can become common place as evidenced in the general rise of depression, stress and anxiety in western society. Though with covid we have seen isolation a loneliness magnified.

We the children do finally leave some of our stress comes from the fact that we do not really understand how to act in this new family situation without them. There is a confusing shift in the roles that we now play. When you have been a full on parent and your child goes off to uni. What contact do we now have with our distanced child? Questions arise..

Who contacts who?

How often do I phone, text, skype, zoom?

Do I wait for them to contact me?

Do I offer the money, resources or wait until I am asked?

What do I do with their room?

Do I keep it as a shrine, redecorate it, let’s other people stay in it….?

What about the family dynamic?

One child moving out can upset the dynamic of the entire family. In some case this can create feelings of bereavement and loss. Some families will even go though a period of mourning. Siblings may become withdrawn or upset. It may effect their performance at school. I am not being dramatic I am simply stating that changes that can effect us all.

Often both parent and child do not fully comprehend the importance of the family unit until it is no longer there. 

‘We don’t know what we’ve got ‘til its gone’.

But hold on, we always knew that this would happen, that this day would come it was just that we have chosen to ignore it. Maybe pretend that it will never happen. The awake mindful parent is preparing them self, the family and the child for their departure. Talking about it obviously helps but it the practical issues and skills that effect a child most. These might include…

Using money

Knowing how to budget and pay bills

Making a shopping list

Basic cookery skills

How to use a washing machine 

The art of ironing

The rules of engagement

Agreeing all the rules of contact and money and doing their washing should all have been discussed prior to the event. As long as they know that they can get you when they need to they will be okay. So what about you? Looking at this change….

 …who are you now?

If you have been a full on parent the chances are that you have lost the sense of who you are, what your own real needs are and what it is that you want to do with your life now.

Many couples caught up in the rush and business of raising a family lose contact with each other. Often in the silence of the empty nest two people stare across the void at each other thinking ‘Who are you?’ It may have been a long time since we really had ‘us’ time. For many of us this is the chance to get back in touch. Talking, sharing and date nights can help. The question ‘who am I’ extends to ‘who are we’ and ‘where are we going from here?’

I guess that over all empty nest syndrome just like bereavement is not an illness it is a process and the better prepared for it the better we process it when the time eventually comes.

My resource for the podcast is to look at John Bowlby’s attachment theory. Our ability to deal with endings is dependent on what happened to us when we were young and how we learned to attach and detach in our relationships. What we learned as children is played out in adulthood. The good news is that even if you do not like you current attachment styles you can re learned and re frame them so that they serve you better.

The biggest gift that we can give our children is independence and confidence. We have to learn to let them go and allow them to live and make their own mistakes.

Covid has added an extra dimension this year as many of the chicks are feeling anxious about leaving the nest. Okay, so the majority of young people still can’t wait to get back out there and party, party, party but there is a high proportion who are facing the prospect and anxiety and fear which is sad. This is a time in life that should be embraced and enjoyed.

Take care and be happy. If are a anxious potential student try and let go and enjoy the newness of the experience. If you are an anxious parent try and step back and allow your children to leave.

Sean x

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