By Kay Newton
I recently had a conversation with a mum whose firstborn would be leaving the family home in 2020. There were eight months to go, yet she was already dreading the prospect. But she is not alone. Helicopter parenting (a parent who takes an overprotective or excessive interest in the life of their child or children) has become the norm around the world, and it brings consequences. More and more parents (men and women) are struggling with the empty-nest stage in life, despite it being a natural life progression.
Here are seven ways to prepare for it well before it actually happens.
If your child is about to head off to University during 2020, no doubt it is a stressful period filled with university applications and exams. Naturally, the focus is on your child gaining the right results and admission.
Yet, despite the stress, it is also a great time to make your own future plans. The more time spent in order to visualize goals and imagine life without children means that when the day comes, your mind has already created the reality you want to have. Instead of reaching the ‘dreaded day’ you will be looking forward to a smooth transition. After all, it is a choice.
Stop Doing Everything
I remember being horrified at my own first week at University (38 years ago) watching a housemate pile all his week’s washing into the machine and run a hot cycle. The pile included a purple mohair sweater! He was most disgruntled when all his clothes came out pink and his sweater a suitable size for a cat to wear – unlike when his mum did it for him.
Today, despite the passing years, such stories still abound. It does not have to be this way. The lack of basic life skills just adds stress. As a parent, the time before University is the perfect opportunity to pass on simple life skills: how to balance an account book, keep within budget, create a weekly menu and shopping list, prepare a healthy meal, use an iron or washing machine, change a bike tyre… This list is endless.
Passing on life skills not only gives your child confidence to live independently it will also give you peace of mind.
The Use of Social Media
This is one that hits a nerve with many parents and every family is different, yet now is the time to answer such questions: How much ‘spying’ should you do on your children via social media when they leave home? What will be the right balance for contact? How will you deal with issues, emotions or emergencies?
Everyone has different thoughts, yet my advice would be not to become ‘friends’ with your child on social media. Keep contact at a minimum in order that they can find their own way through the ups and downs of life. Talk about emergency plans before they leave the nest so that everyone knows the procedure.
Start Sensibly Selfish Time Now
Practice self care during the months leading up to an empty nest. Take time out to acknowledge that you have done fabulous work as a parent to bring your child to the point where they are ready to fly the nest. Celebrate your achievements and take time for you and your spouse or partner.
Plan time to explore all the possibilities for the future, whether it is a new hobby, downsizing of your property, taking in a new lodger or a change of career. A fabulous way to do this is to take a mini-midlife retreat. A few days away from your normal routine will help you see everything with new eyes.
Talk About Your Feelings
It is very easy to bottle up your thoughts and feelings at this time, yet we know that a problem shared is a problem halved. There is a catch: DO NOT share your feelings with your child; you do not want them to feel guilty about leaving home before they even fly the nest!
Talk to your spouse, a good friend or find a professional listener who can help you guide your thoughts and feelings.
Taking time to assess your own future will allow you space to decide how best to support your child as they leave the nest. For example, do you have enough finances for your own retirement and to pay for University fees or will you expect your child to take on debt? Even if you have the finances, do you wish your child to become responsible for their own life when they leave home, including understanding debt?
Brainstorming and answering difficult questions such as finance before your child leaves home allows everyone to know where they stand, before the issues arise.
The realisation that your home is about to have an empty nest can lead to feelings of grief and loss. If you find yourself constantly feeling the emotions of shock, denial, pain, guilt, anger and even depression, obtain professional help. The transition from ‘empty nest’ grief to acceptance and hope can be a windy path, it can hit from nowhere and at any time. The key is to be aware before the point is reached and have a plan in place.
For any further help or guidance, you can find Kay at www.KayNewton.com.
Lead photo (for representative purposes only): Ananya Jain. Model: Anita Jain. First published in eShe’s February 2020 issue