How to cope with “empty nest syndrome” once children have moved to university

When you become a parent, your children’s lives seem to flash before your eyes. Even when they are still tiny, you see it all happen: their first steps, their first day at school, becoming a teenager – now, all of a sudden, they are off into the big wide world.

While you want what is best for your children – and after all, staying at home for the rest of their lives is definitely not the best thing for them – knowing they are about to leave home may cause some parents to feel heartbroken and bereft.

If you are preparing to wave off a beloved child as they begin their university journey, you could be anticipating a big wave of emotion. Read on to find out how “empty nest syndrome” might affect you, plus ways to cope with this understandably challenging change.

Empty nest syndrome can affect parents’ mental health

Empty nest syndrome can manifest in different ways for different people. After all, everyone has a unique relationship with their child.

Broadly speaking, empty nest syndrome is a feeling of unease, sadness and loss after a child moves out. Your thoughts and feelings at this time might include:

  • Worrying excessively about your child’s safety now they are living away from the family home
  • An intense feeling of loneliness
  • Feeling like something is missing from your life
  • Grieving their childhood and struggling to accept them as an adult
  • Your home feeling quieter and emptier than usual
  • Feeling flat or depressed.

Even if you have younger children still at home, this does not mean you will be immune to empty nest syndrome.

Indeed, if you are very close with your child or feel they might struggle with their new-found independence, it can be difficult to let go. Conversely, you may feel confident that they will thrive in their new environment; nevertheless, you will still feel their absence, potentially causing some stress and anxiety in the short term.

What is more, empty nest syndrome can be influenced by external factors. These can include:

  • The distance between your home and your child’s new residence
  • Your ability to contact your child on a regular basis
  • Whether or not you have other children
  • The presence of a supportive partner
  • Other stress factors in your life, such as work.

These aspects of your life could all intersect with the empty nest syndrome you experience, either making it easier to weather the change or potentially exacerbating your feelings.

3 simple tips for coping with empty nest syndrome when children leave home

  1. Stay busy

One of the simplest yet most effective strategies for coping with a shift in your life is to stay busy.

Of course, running away from the problem is not the answer, but keeping your mind and body active while you get used to your child’s absence can be constructive.

For example, throwing yourself into work, volunteering at a sports club or getting involved in other social activities can remind you that your life is vibrant and full. Keeping your mind satisfied by meaningful activity and interactions can be a great help when you feel a loss elsewhere in your life.

  1. Confide in trusted friends and family about how you feel

Although it might sound obvious, talking about empty nest syndrome can work wonders.

If you find yourself struggling to cope with being away from your child who has left for university, talking openly with friends and family is important. It is likely they have experienced similar feelings if they also have children who have left home for pastures new.

Some parents might feel ashamed of how intensely they react to children leaving home, especially if this is not your first child to fly the nest. By opening up about how you feel, you might feel less alone and be able to bear the emotional weight of empty nest syndrome more easily.

  1. Plan a visit

If you experience empty nest syndrome this autumn, it is important to remember that your child has not relocated to another planet. If you miss them, the solution might be as simple as planning a visit to their new city of residence once they have settled in.

By seeing them in their new environment, you may feel more satisfied in the knowledge that they are doing just fine. It may help to know that although they no longer live at home, your child is no more than a phone call, a train ticket or a drive away.

For more guidance on coping with empty nest syndrome after your children leave home, we recommend you talk to a mental health professional.

More stories

10 May 2023 News

Quick guide to school fees planning

25 Apr 2023 News

What is the best investment for a cash lump sum?


Get in