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Preparing for the Empty Nest


I love this quote!

Don’t get me wrong. I love my kids. I enjoyed every stage of their lives, despite the inevitable challenges that come with parenting but I certainly wasn’t one of those mums who longed to keep them by my side all the time. When they started school, I smiled as I waved them into the next phase of their lives. As the first two went off to Uni, that wasn’t a cause for tears either, just interest and curiosity as I heard about their new friendships and some of the wild experiences they enjoyed.

As empty nest beckoned when our youngest was 16, we were ready to embrace new opportunities and adventures.

Now this may not be how it is for you. You may be anticipating or experiencing some difficult challenges as your offspring reach adulthood and leave home for independence. If so, Celia Dodd’s helpful book, The Empty Nest: How to Survive and Stay Close to Your Adult Child is sure to help. With its case studies, plenty of practical ideas, inspiration and tips, it’s an encouraging and empowering book that will help you to focus on the positive as well as how to handle the changes you’re facing. Her three children are now in their late twenties and thirties but she still remembers about how tough it was when they moved out. “It was a real physical wrench,” she says. “I found it a very difficult time. People say, ‘Get a life,’ and of course your life will go on – but what was at the centre of your life isn’t there anymore. You feel something is missing – it’s really visceral.” There are some coping strategies at the end of this blog.

For many couples, investing so much of their time into their children, can mean that their relationship is just not a priority and it can be tough to re-connect when they’re finally alone in the home together with no distractions.

If you’re reading this and empty nest is still years away, now’s the time to remember to make your relationship a priority. Parents who make their children the centre of their world forget that they will come and go but we hope that your partner will be the constant. So, investing in each other while the family are growing up is the key to making empty nest easier to cope with.

Of course, while some couples dread the time when the children leave home, for others, the opposite is their reality. Offspring in their 30’s who are still living at home or young adults returning back to the family home, years after they have left – that’s the challenge. A subject for another blog!

I certainly had my plans once our three were independent. Freedom is one of my core values so a whole new world was about to open up to me – and it did, just in a very different way to how I thought.

On our 27th wedding anniversary, two vulnerable little girls joined our family (we had looked after them as long-term foster carers) and it was about as far from the reality we had imagined and dreamt for ourselves as it was possible to get. It was just as well that we had no idea what the next 20 odd years would hold.

We’d been aware that ‘Empty Nest’ was coming for some years and I think we’d prepared ourselves in some ways for it, although how we would have handled it, had it come when we were expecting it, who knows? The fact it didn’t arrive for another 18 years was the shock for us!

It’s been a roller coaster ride. Our sense of humour has changed – we’ve had to search for humour in some of life’s darkest moments and our idea of ‘crisis’ and ‘nightmare’ is completely different now as we’ve come to appreciate that so many things are just not that important – relationships are everything.

Four years ago, empty nest finally arrived, 18 years later than expected.

In the meantime, my belief that we give our children roots and wings was tested as one by one our three birth children moved to live abroad – in Barcelona, New York and Berlin. And perhaps here’s the lesson – we had the choice about whether to moan about the fact our children and grandchildren are not living locally or embrace the fact that we have the chance for regular holidays and weekends away in some great places. Now we make sure we visit one of the families each month. Yes, it means we need to continue to work rather than retire but that’s allowed us to create new opportunities we couldn’t have imagined 20 years ago.

There are now five grandchildren,

Empty nest? For me, the nest seems to get fuller, it’s just expanded to other towns, cities and continents.


How to Re-connect with your Partner at any time including when the children have left home:

  • The Gottman Institute suggests Love Maps as a great way of reconnecting with your partner. Taking this questionnaire will help to show how much you understand each other’s inner world.
  • From this list, create a list of questions you don’t know about your partner.

Ask your partner to do the same. When you’re both finished, talk about your Love Maps.

  • How up-to-date are they?
  • What’s changed?
  • Are there any surprises?
  • Then answer the questions on both your lists. No judging! The aim of this exercise is to re-establish a connection, not to blame your partner for what he/she doesn’t know.

Love Maps can help partners learn new information about each other and bring you closer together now that there’s more time for your relationship.

Coping strategies for the empty nest

  • Face your feelings. Have a good cry, go through the family albums and talk to someone you can rely on to be genuinely sympathetic, who won’t just tell you to cheer up


  • Practise being spontaneous – not always easy after years of organising your life around other people. If someone suggests a last-minute outing, don’t automatically say no


  • Allow yourself time to adjust to the notion of not being needed on a daily basis. It’s fine to cling on to comforting routines for a while at least. Find new things to nurture – but don’t get a dog just yet


  • If you’re with a partner, don’t wait until the nest empties completely to discuss plans for the future and doing more together


  • Dig out a selection of photos that don’t feature your children: of friends and occasions you’ve enjoyed without them. It’s a good reminder that it is perfectly possible to have a good time without the children


  • When your child comes home, acknowledge that the relationship is now on a different footing. You can no longer expect them to say where they’re going or what time they’ll be home, although you can expect them to consider your feelings.

Ruth Adams

Ruth has worked as a trainer and a communications coach for 20 years and loves to inspire people - from a boardroom to a classroom - to find freedom and unlock possibilities. She is an associate of Family Futures, an area co-ordinator for Adoption UK and a director of Achkiy, a charity working with women in shantytowns in Peru. Ruth is married to Alan, has 3 birth children in New York, Berlin and Barcelona, 2 forever daughters and 6 grandchildren.

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