Adulthood Moving Out Relationships

Empty nest syndrome and the 5 stages of grief; how to make it easier

The Growing Up Guide family siblings parents moving

Empty nest syndrome: That’s what it’s called when all of your little humans have found their wings and abandoned the family home (usually to go to uni or on a gap yaaaa).

A few years ago, I buggered off to uni 350 miles away. Let’s just say there was a bit of resistance. We went from the 3 musketeers to, well, a couple of lunatics.

My parents have a great relationship (serious goals – I’m sure I’ll write about them somewhere else) so me moving away wasn’t a nightmare for them in terms of being stuck with each other.

Nevertheless, my experience of deciding between Lancaster and Exeter and ultimately moving away from my family home in Plymouth to go to university in Lancaster (a 6 hour drive) wasn’t exactly plain sailing.

I’m going to run you through why I think parents can actually experience you moving away as a loss and grieve for your presence.

So here is my experience of inflicting empty nest syndrome on my parents (read: my mum. Dad was pretty chill the whole time, as dads tend to be) and how that played out in terms of the 5 stages of grief.

1. Denial

Mum (about Lancaster): “You don’t realise how far it is until you get up there. You won’t like the North.”

Me: “Well I’ll have to see when I get up there really, mum. And if I do like it and I think it’s the best uni, you need to brace yourself for the fact that I will be going.”

Mum (to dad): “She won’t like it. Plus, she’d never leave George [my boyfriend of 3 years at the time].”

Dad: “Yes, dear”

2. Anger

Mum: “You’re not going to other end of the country. I won’t let you”

Me: “Too bad the government covers my expenses so you can’t really stop me.”

What a rebel/cow, I know. Like any 18 year old, I hated being told what I could and couldn’t do, especially because Lancaster was the best ranked uni for what I wanted to study and it seemed like all mum cared about was keeping me close. This is a testament to how far mum and I have come because thinking about that makes me cringe. Sorrrrrrry mum.

3. Bargaining

Mum (to George, my boyfriend at the time):  “Look George, we both want the same thing here. When you go to Exeter, you just need to make Eliza see that that’s the best option”

I know. Desperation is setting in here. Ever been through a break up and begged them not to end things? Sorry to remind you of that but this is the mum equivalent. Poor momma.

George: “Lancaster is hands down the best option. The facilities are better and it feels more you.”

Yes, he is an absolute hero because despite the fact that I would also be moving 350 miles away from him, as opposed to 40 mins up the road, he told me the truth and supported the decision 100%. Mum wasn’t best pleased.

4. Depression

Mum: Sobbing. Sobbing at hearing my name, at seeing my pictures on the wall or… seeing Lancaster on a Tudor period drama.

I’m only partially joking here. There was a lot of crying on mum’s end. And a lot of guilt on mine.

5. Acceptance

Mum (2 years in): Coming to see Lancaster. And liking it. Despite all the protest, my parents hadn’t actually seen Lancaster until my second year.

Mum (to friends): “Oh yes, my daughter goes to Lancaster – it’s the best business school in the country for the course she’s studying, you know.”

Do parents even have children if they don’t update every single friend on what their children are doing every single time they see them?

The moral of the story

Leaving your family – to go to uni, to go travelling, to move away for a job, to move in with your partner – is not going to be easy. It really depends on your relationship with your parents.

If you’re the only child, heads up, it’s probably going to be a bit harder. The only thing you can do to make it easier is COMMUNICATE.

The reason mum and I had such a difficult time of it is that our relationship back then wasn’t open and honest enough for us to talk about how we were feeling.

I didn’t take my mum to see the universities I was looking at because I thought she’d go round the closer ones wearing rose tinted glasses and find faults with the more distant options.

The fear

What parents are really scared of when you move away isn’t you leaving the house. Believe it or not, no longer having to deal with your dishes or dirty pants is probably a relief. Mum was scared of losing her relationship with me, of never hearing from me again, of being forgotten. The fact that we are closer than ever now (and I still live 5 hours away) shows this doesn’t have to happen.

The only way to keep it from happening is to TALK. Do whatever you have to do to find time for your parents whether you’re living down the road or on the opposite side of the world.

Call them on your way to work, on your way home, while you’re on the treadmill, or if you’re a bit more organised than me, schedule Skype calls. Remember, you only get one set of folks.

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One comment

  1. Sadly my mom didn’t experience this symptom when I left home. But boy, she did become a classic case of this symptom when my younger brother went off for college last year.

    Liked by 1 person

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