Counsellor Sarah Barr helps parents dealing with empty nest syndrome focus on the positive side of life.

In last week’s article I focused on students moving to university and dealing with homesickness.

This week my focus is on the parents/guardians who are left behind. As a mother I can honesty say I am not looking forward to the day my daughter leaves. I am seriously contemplating moving with her, although this might not be a realistic idea.

“People make a lot of jokes about the empty nest. Let me tell you, it is no laughing matter. It is really hard”- Michelle Pfeiffer

We love and protect our children from the moment they are born. In fact we actually begin to ‘nest’ during the final trimester of our pregnancy, as our child grows we try to invest in a ‘nest egg’ for them and when they leave we sometimes face the ’empty nest syndrome’.

The word ‘nest’ is prominent throughout rearing our children.

The role of a bird’s nest to hold eggs safely until they hatch, like that we as parents offer love and care for our child/children until they are ready to leave.

All parents are susceptible to empty nest syndrome. So if your child has left for university or college this week, know that you are not the only one.

Nest syndrome symptoms can include:

  • depression
  • a sense of loss of purpose
  • feelings of rejection
  • worry
  • stress
  • anxiety

These feelings can be heightened by other factors that include:

  • Being in an unstable or unhappy marriage or relationship.
  • Being a stay at home parent.
  • Dealing with other stressful life events such as grief, financial worries and menopause.

Parents facing empty nest syndrome are open to new challenges. These include:

  • Establishing a new type of relationship with their child/children.
  • Finding ways to occupy spare time.
  • Dealing with a lack of understanding from others who believe parents should be happy when their child/children leave home.

If you are feeling like this or are facing these challenges here are five steps can make a positive difference.

1. Keep in touch

Communication is important and we have so many platforms now to connect, such as WhatsApp, Viber and  Facebook. Regular telephone calls are great as it allows us to hear our childs voice and helps maintaining that close relationship. My mum would always say we had the best ‘phone’ relationship when I moved out, further strengthening our relationship.

2. Talk

Talking about how you feel with family, friends or a counsellor can be a great release. It is also advisable to keep a journal and write down how you are feeling. By talking or writing you are not internalising your feelings, you are letting them out.

3. Do what you love

Is there a hobby or interest that you would like to try?. Perhaps there is a new skill you would like to learn? This is now your time to do what you want. There are different classes in the Donegal area that offer the chance to learn new skills, from art to yoga.

4. Time for you

If you’re feeling a little lost, create a new routine. Often when we lack structure in our life we can feel lost. By creating daily goals we can create structure and purpose. Take time to go for a walk, read a book or meet with friends. Allow yourself some “You Time”.

5. New opportunity

This may be the time to start something new in your life, returning to employment is an option. There are services and people within our community that can help you achieve this. The WISE Project help women learn the skills needed in either returning or starting employment.

To read more about WISE click here: 

Here’s a WISE new project to help Donegal women return to work

If your last child has left home and you’re worried about empty nest syndrome, plan ahead. Look for new opportunities in your personal and professional life. Keeping busy or taking on new challenges at work or at home can help ease the sense of loss.

“It is now YOUR time to spread YOUR wings”

If you feel you may benefit from talking I offer a Coffee & Chat (free consultation) in Letterkenny, Moville and Derry, you are more than welcome to meet me.


Take Care~ Sarah