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Navigating the Emotional Rollercoaster of Empty Nest Syndrome

It’s October half term, school children are home after seven weeks studying. But not those who have just left for university!  Are you still cooking the same amount of food purely by habit, looking at the leftovers and wondering if your son or daughter is eating well?


Empty nest syndrome is the umbrella term for a feeling of sadness and loneliness, and it is perfectly normal. As parents we hope to have done a good enough job preparing our child for adulthood. We want them to be independent, resilient, safe and happy.  Them leaving for university can cause great anxiety for all parents in different ways; a sense of losing control over your child and no longer overseeing their decisions, worrying if you have (or haven’t) heard from them (too much, not enough), are they sick with freshers flu? Who is looking after them? Or even triggering memories of your own university experience.


With children no longer the focus of your attention and dominating conversations, you and your partner may wonder what you have in common. During the process of raising a family have you lost sight of each other?  John Gottman’s book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work (2018) suggests some interesting exercises to reconnect with your partner/spouse.  He reminds us ‘Too often a good marriage is taken for granted rather than given the nurturing and respect it deserves and desperately needs’.


Whilst your child is off studying, learning life skills and developing a sense of who they are. Where does that leave you? Connecting with people by talking is a great way to feel less lonely and isolated.  Alternatively, start journaling how you feel. The importance of this exercise is to tolerate and accept your feelings and not avoid, dismiss or even distract yourself from them. Show yourself the same level of compassion you would a good friend and be patient.


You might be asking ‘What is my purpose in life?’ Firstly, you are not alone many of us ask that very question and it can feel totally overwhelming. However, I think this diagram helps direct our thinking.

If you get stuck with values check out Brené Brown’s website:

Diagram sourced from

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