Q: My son and daughter are leaving home (one for uni, another for a job) and suddenly it’s just my husband and I. Although we are happy for them and for the time we will have, I feel like I’m not coping very well with the thought of losing them both. Suddenly it feels like I don’t have a purpose and my time with them has gone. Is it normal to feel like this?
Thank you for your question and I know, from similar questions and from my work with clients, you are not alone in feeling this way.
What you are experiencing is what is commonly known as the “empty nest” syndrome. As a mother I can empathise with you as I too have experienced similar anxieties when my children left home.
“I feel like I’m not coping very well with the thought of losing them both.”
What you are describing is an element of the grief process. Many make the mistake of associating grief only with the death of a loved one. You are experiencing a loss of your children as you have once known them. Your son and daughter are moving into the next phase of their development where they will not be as dependant on you or your husband.
Not only do our children become attached to us but us to them. Hence the reason why it is so painful, especially for us as mothers, when they leave home.
“Suddenly it feels like I don’t have a purpose…”
I am wondering if your identity and what gives you purpose is all tied up in your children and because of this you may feel you are no longer useful.
You mention, “…and suddenly it’s just my husband and I.” For some this thought is quite frightening as everything they did revolved around the children and somehow their relationship with their partner got lost or just stopped.
For others it ends in divorce as they realise they stayed together for the “sake of the children” and still for others it is a very positive time as they seize the opportunity to do more things together and build on their relationship.
Hopefully, you and your husband can support each other both physically and emotionally during this time.
“My time with them has gone.”
You will certainly miss them, but remember you have not completely lost them. If they have not yet left, mark this transition period of your lives in some way that will make it special for the whole family. Celebrate it by looking back and giving thanks for the mountain top experiences as well as the valleys that have helped to shape the closeness you have as a family.
And as they leave tell them you love and will miss them. Let them part with your blessings knowing you and your husband will continue to be there for them and you are only a phone call away.
You ask, “Is it normal to feel like this?” Yes. The loss you are experiencing is quite significant and whenever there is loss you will have grief. It can be a very painful time especially for us as mothers. How we cope will depend on how past significant losses were handled and our children leaving home can trigger painful feelings from the past.
This is an anxious time for all of you and if you would like to talk, please feel free to contact me.
Audrey James is a member of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy and the Association for Pastoral and Spiritual Care and Counselling and the founder of Restore Counselling Service, a private practice based in Barton Street, Gloucester. Visit restorecounsellingservice.co.uk or call 07717 633846.