This is a difficult time for parents whose kids have recently flown the nest. Half term, Halloween, Bonfire Night – and soon nativity plays, Christingle and all those other pre-Christmas events – can be painful reminders of the way life used to be, and of moments which were precious because they were shared. By now the reality of life without children at its centre is sinking in and at times it may feel as if nothing will ever fill the gap. Even parents who coped well when they first said goodbye go through low points when all they want is a hug.
After talking to some forty parents for my book The Empty Nest, I’ve realised that it’s no exaggeration to say that the empty nest is a real crisis for many people. It leaves fathers as well as mothers feeling bereft, lonely, redundant and discombobulated. It’s a myth that only stay at home mums suffer: people with hectic careers miss their kids just as much as housewives and househusbands.
No wonder this is the classic time when even the most solid couples hit a brick wall, wondering how they’ll cope and what they’ll talk about without the common focus of kids.
I hope my book helps parents to take a positive view of the huge life changes that are inevitable when the kids go, and makes them feel they are not alone in their feelings. It’s often pointed out that the Chinese character for ‘crisis’ means opportunity as well as danger, and that’s certainly true of the empty nest.
There’s no doubt this is one of the most challenging phases of life, but it’s also one of the most exciting. Life has to go in a new direction: the key is to work out what you want next, and to go about achieving your goals. The experts I spoke to were unanimous in stressing the importance of seizing this invaluable opportunity to take stock before seizing the hour.
What’s also exciting is that relationships between children and parents generally improve as they grow into adulthood. But caring at a distance is not always easy, so my book offers tips on how to handle this constantly evolving relationship. There’s advice from experts on making sure the eagerly anticipated (on the parents’ side at least!) Christmas holidays are a happy family reunion and not a series of bad-tempered flashpoints. University vacations are bound to get tense when nearly adult offspring who’ve got used to the freedom of the student bubble clash with parents who still treat them as children.
The book also offers guidance – gleaned from top psychologists and other parents – on how to anticipate (and avert!) problems. There are tips on visiting children at university, and dealing with common dilemmas, such as what to do if your child never rings, or if they run up eye-watering debts, or get drunk or never go to lectures. Finally how to help if they are unhappy or homesick – because the first term is notoriously difficult for adult children as well as parents (student drop-out rates apparently peak at Christmas).
Because however independent and sophisticated they seem, adult children still need their parents. So the new generation of empty nesters faces a whole new set of dilemmas; perhaps the biggest is how to forge their own new direction in life while continuing to support their adult children.
The Empty Nest is available to buy now from all good bookshops. It is also available to download as an e-bookfrom all the major e-book retailers, so you can read it on your Kindle, iPad, Kobo or Sony Reader.
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