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5 ways to overcome empty nest syndrome

Mother picking up toys in empty house
Empty nest syndrome is normally associated with teenagers leaving for university but what about when your young one starts full-time at primary school? Lauren Crosby Medlicott's youngest child is about to do just that, leaving her with an empty house six hours a day. She shares her plan for coping with this big change.

For the last eight years, my house has been filled with the sounds of at least one of my three children calling for me. I’ve been needed at every point throughout each day: to make snacks, clean up spills, take to the toilet, play with train tracks, and read books on the couch. Raising three young children has been full-on but I haven’t resented it (even if I’ve been exhausted at times). They’ve brought life to our home and given me endless pleasure as I have watched them grow and mature.

But our house is about to get a lot quieter in September and I’m not quite sure how I’m going to handle it. My youngest is starting full-time at primary school and it will only be me in the house each day. Friends of mine have asked if I’m excited about having more time to myself, but I’m not. I’m actually grieving the fact I’m now a mum to school-age children. You’ve probably heard of ‘empty-nest syndrome’ usually described as a feeling parents get when waving goodbye to their children moving out to attend university. But I’m expecting empty-nest syndrome when all of mine are in primary school.

What am I going to do with myself? Who am I without kids to take care of? Is my baby going to be okay coping in this big world?

Whenever there is an unknown in my life (for instance, what life will look like once I have six hours without kids every day), I ponder what I can control in the situation. Here are five ways I am planning to deal with empty-nest syndrome this September.

1. Don't commit to anything too quickly

If you’re anything like me, you'll want to completely fill your schedule to avoid pondering how your children are ‘all-grown up’. While staying busy is definitely a way to avoid emotions, the problem is that if you start committing too quickly, you may end up doing things you really don’t want to do. Instead, take time to reflect on what you want your future years as a parent to look like. What matters to you? What do you want to do long-term? What can you practically achieve while your kids still need you before and after school?

2. Find a job

For the last two years, I’ve dabbled in freelance journalism. The plan is to increase the number of hours I spend on writing and see if it is something I want to stick with in the future.

Finding a job may be difficult for parents who still need to be there for school drop-offs and pick-ups, but finding a job that fits in school hours or is very flexible may be just the thing to throw yourself into as your child starts school. Perhaps you can look at starting your own business or taking a job that allows you to work from home. There are some great resources out there with lots of ideas for term-time jobs. Some of them may require extra training, but this could be the perfect time to train.

3. Do something you’ve missed out on

Before I had kids, I used to do a lot of swimming. It was my way to escape from the world and drown out any noise. It isn’t something I’ve been able to do much over the last eight years. On that first day of school in September, I fully intend to drop the kids at school and head straight for the pool. You may find me crying as I swim laps!

What have you given up since having kids? Exercise? Food shopping in silence? Reading novels? Or maybe there are house projects you just couldn’t get around to with kids at your feet.

This is the time to do what you’ve missed!

4. Learn a new skill

I haven’t decided what new skills I want to learn, but it is definitely on my to-do list as a priority. I’m not an artsy person, so doubt I will be learning how to paint on a canvas or knit a jumper. But I would consider taking a course to teach me about creative writing.  

If you’re short on ideas, ask around or hop online and do a bit of research. There are plenty of people in the same boat and you can often find extensive lists of new skills to learn. You can keep your brain engaged and have a skill to show off to your kids.

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Learn a new language (you can use free apps like Duolingo)
  • Join a dance class or a sports club
  • Teach yourself how to code
  • Watch DIY YouTube videos on everything from how to write a crime novel to changing a car tire 
  • Make your own videos or start a blog and share your experiences or show off your new skill
  • Sign up to free online courses and develop employability skills 
  • Try taster sessions for anything that takes your fancy (often advertised at your local library, recreation centre or on online groups)

5. Give back to your community

I’ve just finished contacting a charity I have been itching to volunteer with for years but haven’t been able to with kids in tow.

Where can you volunteer your time and give back to your community? There is a sense of fulfilment that comes from feeling useful and the added bonus of social contact – both are the perfect distractions when missing your babies. You could also join the school's PTA and help plan events to raise money for the school and the community. It's a great way to meet other parents who may be feeling the same way and be productive. 

This is a big change, parents! Let’s not underestimate the transition we are going through in sending our kids to primary school. But equally, let’s plan for how we are going to cope with ‘empty-nest syndrome’ and look forward to what life has for us between the hours of 9:00 am and 3:00 pm.