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Empty Nest Syndrome

Empty nest syndrome

For them it’s a new adventure – leaving home for the first time, meeting new people and taking on the challenge of a degree. For you, there are some obvious benefits too – a bit more freedom, the end of your taxi service days and regaining control of the TV remote. However, you may also be affected by what psychologists have termed ‘empty nest syndrome’. Dr Steve Taylor, Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Leeds Beckett University talks us through it.

A sense of loss

After years of nurturing, it’s time for your son or daughter to become independent, to apply the life skills you’ve taught them, to unfold their potential and grow into their authentic selves. This transition can bring many challenges for parents. It’s likely that you’ll feel a sense of loss. Your house might feel uncomfortably empty – you might feel as if you have too much free time on your hands.

After investing so much time and attention in your child, you might initially feel a little disoriented, as if you’ve lost one of your main purposes in life. And, if you’re in a relationship, there’s also your partner to consider. Having children often means that your relationship to your partner becomes secondary. But when children leave home, the focus shifts back to the relationship. It means re-connecting with your partner, spending more time together.

More you time

But the good news is that recent research suggests that the ‘empty nest syndrome’ may have been over-stated. Research has even found that, although parents do feel a sense of loss when children leave home, they also feel a sense of new freedom. They enjoy having less responsibility and more time to devote to hobbies and interests.

And perhaps best of all, for those in a relationship, a study published in the journal Psychological Science found that when children leave home, couples’ relationships actually improve. Couples whose children had left home reported greater satisfaction with their marriages than others whose children were still at home.

You still have a role to play

And of course, you’ll be there to support your child, only a little less directly. You’ll still be there to watch them flourish, only from a little more distance. It’s not the end of your relationship with them, but the beginning of a new phase – an adult to adult relationship, rather than an adult to child one.

Dr Steve Taylor teaches on the BA (Hons) Psychology and Society and MA Interdisciplinary Psychology courses at Leeds Beckett University.

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