As a parent, you support your children to grow into healthy and resilient young adults who have the skills and confidence to fly the nest. But when that moment comes around, for many as part of the mass exodus of students leaving the island to study at university, there’s no doubt that it’s a bittersweet moment.
For some parents, there's a sense of freedom and excitement for the next milestone in your own life. But for many it can lead to an identity crisis of sorts. Here are some thoughts on how to cope, and maybe even thrive, if your child is leaving home.
The feelings that hit you when your child leaves home can be conflicting. There’s that ‘well done me’ feeling as you share in their accomplishments and watch them head off to start an exciting new chapter in their lives. You might also be excited to be entering your own new chapter. But there can also be an overwhelming sense of grief as you realise that your role has shifted onto the sidelines of their life and you have to let them stand on their own two feet. On the one hand, you feel happy to see them taking their future into their own hands, but you can’t simply switch off the worry that comes with years of the responsibility of looking after them. Whatever you feel, acknowledging your emotions is the starting point to accepting them and working through them.
Step back and consider this. Are your feelings really all about them? Chances are their leaving has coincided with other things that are going on in your life. Maybe you’re questioning whether you’re in the right place, the right career, the right relationship? You may also be thinking about your health, or dealing with the fallout of health issues with your own parents. All of these things can individually lead you to question your own sense of identity and if your role as a parent is shifting at the same time, it’s no wonder you feel overwhelmed with emotion. For some, parenting can be full on and they look forward to the freedom that an empty nest brings. For others parenting was a joy and when that role goes there’s a sense of loss. For many, it’s somewhere in between. However you feel, there’s no rule book on how to deal with it, but here are a few tips to help you to cope.
Remember that your feelings are yours, and yours alone. Of course you should talk to your child about how you - and they - are feeling, but don’t project your emotions onto them. They no doubt have their own conflicting emotions to deal with, they don’t need to take on feelings of anxiety or even guilt about how you are feeling. Recognise that this is a positive step for them.
It may not be easy to see your child as often as you would like with the physical - and financial - barriers that island living throws up. But technology can be a force for good, so keep in touch with messages and video calls. Sending an occasional ‘care package’ will also make you feel like you’re still looking after them and they will no doubt appreciate a few Guernsey treats thrown in for good measure.
Even the most laid-back teenagers have their moments! They can push you to the limits of your patience, so embrace the calm. On a practical level, you’ll have a full fridge, less laundry… and more time to yourself.
Find things to occupy you, especially in the initial weeks after they’ve moved out. Take up a new hobby, sign up for a class or spend time revisiting a pastime that you’ve let slip over the years. Replace the empty nest feeling with another nesting instinct and have a big clean up and clear out.
Think about what you want for your own life and make it happen. Embrace this opportunity for self discovery and look on it as a positive challenge. This could be the time for you to really prioritise your own wellbeing and happiness or to pursue the dreams that you put on hold when family life took over.
Make plans to catch up with family and friends and don’t take your relationships for granted. There’s no doubt the empty nest can have huge repercussions. The Office for National Statistics shows a rise in ‘silver splitters’ with a rise in over 50s separating once their children have left home. It may be years since you and your significant other have spent even a few days alone together, so take it easy and give yourselves time to adjust to your new situation.
If you have one child moving out and others still at home, resist the temptation to turn the spotlight onto the ‘remainers’. While it’s great to have more time and energy for them, they’re used to sharing you and might not actually want to become the centre of attention overnight. Be available, and enjoy the extra time, but don’t suffocate them. And be aware that they will be dealing with their own emotions at this time. It's a big change for them too.
Talk to friends who have been in a similar situation who can support you as you learn to adjust to your new life situation. If you are feeling isolated, look at ways to to cope with feelings of loneliness.
With around 18% of young people on the Island now not identifying as straight, it is more common that as a parent you may find yourself having a conversation with your child about gender and/or sexuality. So we asked Liberate and their local social media community for some advice.