How to reinvent yourself when the kids leave home
If you’re a parent or guardian, imagine a life where you can turn off your mobile phone at night, reclaim the TV remote, have a bit more cash and even dance around at home without hearing derisive groans from your children. These are just some of the positives you can look forward to when children grow up and leave home.
And you’re not alone — lone households are the fastest growing trend, projected to increase an average 2.2 per cent per year to 28 per cent by 2031, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
However, it’s important to be prepared for this major shift.
"As with any significant life change, becoming empty nesters is no small step,” says parent and family coach, Dina Cooper. “You’ve gone from dependants in the home, sharing your time, space and energy to suddenly having more free time, more available mental (and physical) energy and usually a tidier space. All in all, so many changes.”
Professor Jane Fisher is an academic Clinical Psychologist who works with national women’s health group Jean Hailes, agrees: “My main tip is to frame it positively, to look at the gain and not the loss. To women: your identity is more than that of a mother, and this is the time to let your identity grow.”
Professor Fisher admits her own experience of having children leave home in recent years was tough, but brought many gains all round.
“We have downsized from a large family house to a much smaller inner city house, and farewelled all four of our children, who range in age from late 20s to early 30s, and who now all live independently of us,” Prof Fisher tells Starts Today.
“I think it’s actually something to celebrate. There’s a great sense of gratification in experiencing your children as competent adults who are able to manage their professional and personal lives. What I also learned is leaving home doesn’t mean leaving the relationship. The relationships remain warm, close and fresh.”
Once you get over the emotional hurdles, this stage can be a new lease of life, says Prof Fisher.
“For some this is a time to get involved in voluntary activities or to follow other interests,” she says. “But I think for many women, their 50s, 60s and 70s become opportunities for high professional productivity at senior levels.”
But the experts agree adjusting to the newfound freedom of an empty home can be a challenge.
Communication is important, says Ms Cooper, a parent coach and counsellor.
“If you are feeling sad, lonely or even relieved your kids are no longer home, share it out loud. The process of acknowledgement is an important step in adjusting to change,” she says.
Setting goals ahead of the big transition is a positive move: “Think of all of those things you thought you couldn’t do with kids around and take one small step to starting one. If you have a partner, it’s important to consider this new phase of your relationship”.
This was the experience of Prof Fisher, who says with three of her grown children now living overseas, she has more time to focus on her professional life, and enjoy newfound time with her long-time partner.
“I’ve heard empty nest becomes a love nest, and while I wouldn’t go that far it’s been delightful to recapture the pleasures of being a couple with my husband, and to pursue activities spontaneously.”
But some find the new vacuum daunting: “Friends try to cheer you up by saying ‘they'll be back’, or ‘you can always Skype them’, but that misses the point. Of course technology helps, but it's no substitute for the real thing,” writes one mother in a British newspaper.
However, whatever the ups-and-downs, the experts agree: having independent children can improve your finances.
“We have more financial resources because we’re not supporting children in the same way and we’re able to travel and be free of financial worries,” says Prof Fisher.
“Overall I would say it’s a wonderful phase of life. It doesn’t mean we don’t see our children; we’re in active communication, they still turn to us for assistance and problem solving. We celebrate achievements and milestones together, we appreciate each other but we’re just not living together.”