Wednesday 18 September 2019

University challenge: 15 ways to cope with empty nest syndrome

From a smaller shopping basket to a tidier house, parents must learn how to adjust their day-to-day once the kids go to college, writes Barbara Scully

Psychotherapist and author Stella O’Malley reminds parents that they will now need to readjust their minds towards each other
Psychotherapist and author Stella O’Malley reminds parents that they will now need to readjust their minds towards each other

Barbara Scully

So, Johnny or Mary have accepted their college place and plans are in full swing for their new life. This is a big transition, not just for the students, but for parents too.

Joanna Fortune, psychotherapist and author of 15 Minute Parenting says, "You are entering a brand-new parenting phase, one where your 'child' is an adult, independent and yet still dependent in many ways. You have to be able to step back, trust the job you've done in getting them this far and let them enter the world and find their own way."

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So, how should parents prepare for college life?

1 Letting go

Joanna emphasises that, as a parent, you are now required to allow them make their own mistakes.

"Avoid fixing and rescuing and instead support them in finding the learning in those mistakes," she says. "Open communication, clear expectations and trust will also help you negotiate this new phase of your parent-child relationship."

2 Reset some boundaries

Joanna also suggests that if your child is remaining at home while at college, you need to reset some boundaries and house rules. "College life brings with it an increased social life and this may be at odds with what you expect from them in terms of times they are in/out of your home or overnight guests, especially if you have younger children at home as well."

Not the easiest of conversations but essential if you want to avoid heading to the bathroom in the middle of the night to find a stranger has gotten there before you.

3 Reset your alarm clock

Your little darling is now an adult, old enough to drive, old enough to vote and most definitely old enough to get themselves out of bed in the morning.

Start as you mean to go on. Reset your alarm to whatever getting up time suits you. Johnny or Mary will have to now be responsible for getting up, out and onto the bus on time.

4 Reset the catering

If your children have left home to attend college you will need to start adapting to the fact that you have one less mouth to feed. This isn't as easy as it sounds, because if you are the one responsible for the cooking and have been doing it for decades, your recipes are automatic. So, be prepared for weeks of lots of leftovers until you finally get it into your brain that you need to reduce, reduce, reduce.

5 Reset your shopping

Within the first weeks of them leaving you will likely notice a milk lake, a toilet roll mountain, along with a logjam of shampoo, conditioner and shower gel. Like the cooking, your shopping, which has remained the same for years, is going to take a few weeks to recalibrate. But ultimately this is good news for your pocket and for the planet.

6 Learn how to work the TV

Do you know what HDMI is? Have you your own Netflix account? Can you understand some of the weird messages your TV displays regularly? Can you even record programmes? If your kids do all this, now is the time for a crash course in all things technical.

7 Talk money

This is a particularly difficult area, especially if you are going to have to shell out for accommodation as well as fees and materials. But it is important to think about how much financial support you can offer and how much you expect your kids to contribute via a part-time job.

8 Get on Insta - or maybe don't

Okay, so you will miss them. You will miss knowing what's going on but you will also miss their faces. And so, my advice is to go on Instagram. Yeah, I know it will mean that you will also have to suffer the 'Insta stories' of their nights out, which can be very disturbing. But it can be great too. So, have a wee think before you sign up to stalk their new lives.

9 Just the two of you

Psychotherapist and author Stella O'Malley reminds parents that they will now need to readjust their minds towards each other. "There will probably be a gap of maybe 10 or more years where children will fly the nest and show little interest in being with their parents. This will change when your children have children and there will, hopefully, be time for a stronger bond in those future days, but in the interim, parents need to find their own purpose in life, instead of pulling out of their adult children."

10 You time

Stella also advises parents to make the most of this hiatus in life. She says this can be a golden age for many parents and studies show that people are often happiest at this stage in their lives. However, this new chapter does need some consideration. "The lack of focus that comes as children move out and suddenly the school term is irrelevant, can mean that some parents waste vital years as they wait around hoping that their children might need them the way they did just a couple of years ago." So, make plans for how you are going to make the most of your extra time.

11 Know it can be hard when they leave

The first months after they go you may find hard. You will miss their energy, their personality and their contribution to the family. It will feel as though one of the bricks that hold your family together has been removed. It's a very physical sense of loss. And it can be hard.

12 The joy of a tidier home

But suddenly you find that your hallway is free of shoes and bags, there are no wet towels all over the bathroom, and you no longer have to hunt for cups and glasses abandoned in various locations. Best of all, you can go out knowing that things will be just as you left them when you return.

13 Embrace the peace and quiet

At first this is a bit unnerving and you will find yourself saying daft things like, "Oh, the house is so quiet without Johnny or Mary". But soon you will relish the silence, the calm and the headspace.

14 Keep communicating

It's so easy nowadays to stay in touch, so make sure you don't only text or call when you have something specific to discuss. Fill them in on snippets of family news etc, just like you would have done if they were still at home. This open communication will also mean they may find it easier to talk to you when they hit a problem - which they invariably will.

15 Joy of homecoming

So, although moving away for college can be a tough transition for all, including younger siblings who will miss their big brother or sister, hang on in there. The joy of homecomings can be very sweet and you will appreciate your offspring in a way you perhaps never have before.

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