Last month parents across the country waved goodbye to their kids as they embarked on their uni journey. But as they’re downing their own body weight in cheap cider and vomiting in their handbags, how is it for the parents left at home? We asked Sally Martin an expert and mentor in empty nest syndrome.
You look after them for the first 18 years of their life. Then in the third week of August, the brown envelope is opened and the ‘A’ level results are there. University beckons…
In 2017, there was a drop in the number of students going to university. However, UCAS stated around 649,700 young people applied for university and there are a total of around 2.5 million people currently studying at university; that is an awful lot of empty bedrooms.
For the student, this is an exciting time. Of course, there is apprehension and a touch of anxiety too. But, at last, they have the chance to study a subject they are passionate about as well as finally make their own decisions, make new friends and stay out all night (maybe/probably).
While the kids, sorry young adults, are drinking themselves into oblivion, trying to tackle the washing machine and throw together some semblance of a routine, the parents are left with a large kid-shaped gap at home.
The phrase ‘empty nest syndrome’ was first coined back in the 1970s. The saying is defined as a ‘condition, often involving depression and loneliness, experienced by parents living in a home from which the children have grown up and left,’ (Collins English Dictionary).
What does that mean? Depression? Loneliness?! Surely the parent has their life back! No more mum or dad taxi, no more raided fridges – they could rent their kids’ room out on Airbnb!
Generally, the term empty nest refers to when the last kid moves out of the family home. However, it can affect any parent at any time and with any kid. Of course, you will be proud and excited; your child is an adult and you contributed to their current situation. Isn’t that brilliant?! Well, yes and no.
Empty nest syndrome, up until now, has been mostly focused on the mum. However, mums are generally good at making friends with fellow mothers and can find it easier to talk and share and ask for a shoulder to cry on when needed.
But, how about the dads? Anecdotally, the dads are the ones who tell the mums this is great, they will be fine etc. However, dads are affected too. Back in 2014, the New York Times published an article stating that the empty nest syndrome was ‘harder on fathers than conventional wisdom would have you believe.’ Dads aren’t just seen as the bread winners but as part of the emotional fabric of the family. In the article, many current dads (taking their kids to university for the first time) talked about not recalling their own fathers reacting in an emotional way so there is no template to use from past experiences, as they didn’t really exist.
Dads have the opportunities, more than ever, to have forged a strong bond with their kid whilst they grew up. Then they go to university and there is no one to talk to every day. It’s silent! The noise, the conversation, the detritus of everyday life suddenly goes.
It’s the end of an era, isn’t it? One of the ways to recognise the empty nest syndrome is to truly accept it’s a new situation. It’s a fresh challenge for your kid, a fresh challenge for you and a major life transition for everyone.
But there is no reason why you can’t keep in touch. Though a bit of advice – leave them to Fresher’s Week. You don’t need to know what goes on then! You can keep that invisible thread going with your kid, especially in the first few months. It’s good to set up a family WhatsApp group or just chat on Facebook and see how they’re getting on and watch them grow and prosper and when they come home armed with washing in the holidays, I’m sure you’ll see the changes.
The empty nest is not new. However, parents are spending more time than ever, with their kids. In a sense, it is learning to let your kid go and be that adult you have been preparing them for since they were born.