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  • Robyn Maclarty

When your growing child leaves home

Raising children is demanding, intense, yet very rewarding, and when they leave the nest, this can spark a crisis for parents. Here’s how to navigate this tricky transition.

Buhle (45) never imagined it would be so difficult when her son left home. ‘I mean, I knew I would miss him, but it was so unexpected. Just before Sipho left, I stopped eating. I felt sick. I kept telling myself not to be so dramatic, but it got worse. I was tired all the time. The colour went out of life. I started picking on my husband all the time. Our marriage suffered as a result.’

Buhle – like so many parents who raise their children into independent adults – was experiencing an acute case of empty-nest syndrome, a phenomenon that occurs when parents experience grief, loneliness, and a loss of purpose after their children leave home.


While it isn’t a clinical diagnosis, according to the Mayo Clinic, empty-nest syndrome can make parents vulnerable to ‘depression, alcoholism, identity crisis and marital conflicts’. It makes sense, says psychologist and life transition facilitator Ann Werner. ‘How can you not be affected by the end of a role you have played for the past 20 or so years?’ It can come as a shock, even when anticipated.


Most parents adjust to their new role as empty nesters within two months. However, some parents’ symptoms may persist for a longer, especially if they also face additional difficulties, such as financial or health problems.


Ann Werner gives the following advice to her clients:

  • FEEL THE FEELINGS Release the flood of emotions and the outpouring of all the new and sometimes surprising feelings. As with all life stages and transitions, it is a process, and you must find your own individual pace. Be patient with yourself.

  • GIVE IT TIME You may wish to get over it and get out there in an attempt to avoid uncomfortable feelings but try not to rush this process. Give it time, or unresolved feelings may resurface later. You will gradually begin to open new windows and find new perspectives and, in so doing, find excitement at the possibilities that lie ahead.

  • PURSUE PERSONAL PLEASURES Through this changing lens, you might realise that you now have time to pursue an interest, take a class, or discover new activities – luxuries not afforded through the frantic parenting years. You can eat when you like, take evening walks, join a yoga class, or relax and read a book. Renewed attention to one’s relationship can spark all manner of combined pursuits, and single parents may now have the time to meet new people, should they wish to.

  • FIND A NEW OUTLOOK Set a deliberate intention to change your perspective. If you used to do something particular when your children lived at home, what can you do now? For example, at the time of day you used to drive your kids to school, plan to take a walk with a friend, or swap extramural arrangements for volunteer work, go to classes, see more clients, work on your hobbies, and so on.

  • EXERCISE REGULARLY Exercise can help you feel better. Research indicates that, as you age, exercise may increase your happiness levels and the ability to accomplish daily activities.



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