I found myself moping around the place the other day wondering why I felt just a little down. Then my husband and I realised why we were both feeling a little bit that way—we’d been struck by the “empty nest syndrome”.
Towards the end of last year our daughter, our only child, finally left home. She’d studied for years so had been living with us until age twenty-five (in Sydney, it’s the exception rather than the rule for uni students to live away from home). She’d been away on academic placements for weeks on end, but always came home. Even after she moved out (to a very happy living arrangement) for a while she worked nearby for a few days a week and sometimes it didn’t feel like she’d gone at all.
But now, though we talk and text often nearly every day, she’s not often here, and when she is she’s a visitor. Her bedroom is now a fully functioning guest room but of course it’s still referred to as her room. The cats go in there, sit in the middle of the room and cry sometimes because they miss her. I’m still buying too much food at the supermarket.
According to Pyschology Today, empty nest syndrome is not a clinical diagnosis, but "refers to feelings of depression, sadness, and, or grief experienced by parents and caregivers after children come of age and leave their childhood homes." So it really is a thing!
We are delighted our daughter is enjoying an independent, happy life. That’s the outcome we want for her. We love being a guest in her new home. But having her gone is a kind of grief, not just for the loss of her company but also the end of an era where our lives revolved around family. We were older parents so daughter leaving home also coincides with facing retirement and down-sizing and other big life changes. (Not that I have any intention of retiring from writing romance!) You prepare for other stages of life, but we certainly hadn’t consciously prepared for the empty nest.
Last night I cooked one of my daughter’s favourite meals for dinner—a yummy cheese and caramelised onion quiche—and remarked to my husband how odd it was that for the first time we would get to eat the entire quiche ourselves, with leftovers for lunch the next day.
Then there was a knock on the door and there she was, wanting a fix of home. I don’t know what empty nest syndrome is called for the one who left and sometimes misses home but I guess she’d felt it. There was much hugging. The cats came running up the hallway at the sound of her voice. And quiche was served. When her partner came to pick her up, he was also served quiche. There was no quiche left for lunch today but I didn’t mind at all.
|Our little family on a visit to London last year
Have you suffered from empty nest syndrome—from either side? Any coping strategies to share? I’d love to read your comments.
(My next book Second Chance with the Single Dadis out now in Australia and next month in the US and UK. Adorable baby girl Nina is an important character in the book and brought back many happy memories of my daughter as I was writing it.)