The empty nest

The empty nest is a trying time, and the emotions can catch you by surprise. The first signs of unexpected emotions may come as early as when your child receives confirmation of their university place, says Celia Dodd, author of The Empty Nest: How to Survive and Stay Close to Your Adult Child.

“Or it may come as their room is tidied up, ready for their imminent departure. For others, it comes at the moment they say goodbye at the halls of residence. And for some, it’s later still – perhaps when they see a mum with her child in the supermarket or they walk past a primary school.”

Of course, you’re proud of your child’s achievements and share their excitement, but deep down, it is easy to feel distressed that they’re off. Mums may be going through the menopause, which makes them feel over-emotional anyway, or if they haven’t worked and have invested everything in bringing up their children, they may feel, “What now?”

“Dads, meanwhile, often feel they can’t admit to their sadness down the pub or with their friends and so lack the support that mums often get,” says Dodd.
While emotional guidance is beyond the scope of JETmag, there are practical suggestions we can make.

Teach your kids survival skills

  • How to budget – study allowance and part-time work will only get your child so far. Teach your child to live within their means. It might shock them, but it’s an important life lesson.
  • How to cook cheap and healthy meals – this is a given (otherwise, it’s ramen noodles and Burger King). bite.co.nz has some great easy recipes.
  • Tenancy rules – knowledge of their rights and responsibilities will make living away from home less stressful.
  • How to navigate the city – teach them the bus or train system and the best cycle lanes (if they exist) to their institution or workplace.
  • How to unclog a sink – useful if your child is, how shall we say … a bit gross.
  • How to sew – important if your child is a bit rough and tumble.
  • How to do their own laundry – bringing bundles of clothes home is only cute the first few times. Teach them the strange metaphysics of the washing machine and iron.
  • Documentation and paperwork – your child will need to fill in plenty of forms (for uni, for work, for Studylink, etc.). If they’re not sure, you can help them, but it’s best you teach them where they can get ready access to documents such as their IRD number, their birth certificate, passport, etc.
  • How to have adult relationships – your child probably has good friends, but as you know, friendships change when you leave school and new, more mature connections are made at uni or in the workplace. Your now-adult child will also become sexually active (if they weren’t already). Have “that” talk with them before they leave school. It’s one of your final acts as a parent before your child becomes an independent adult.

How to say goodbye

If your child leaves home to study, this can be bloody hard – even harder than when you first dropped them off at school when they were wee ones. Making a plan for the initial goodbye gives a framework and can be comforting. It’s worth sorting out the practical aspects in advance. Are you going to drop them off in their new home, or are they getting there by themselves? How will you travel, where will you park, what public transport will you use? Once you’re there, how long are you going to stay for?

Resolving these issues well ahead of time means that on the day itself all the technical issues are sorted, and you “only” have the emotional aspect to cope with. Good luck, bring a hanky, and remember, if you have a solid relationship with your child, they will probably visit frequently. Moving out is a huge emotional adventure for them, so they’ll need your comfort and support.

Communication is key. You need to give your child space to become independent and enjoy their new life, but staying in touch and find out how they are is healthy.

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