The Mind Talk

The Mindtalk
Empty Nest Syndrome illustration – parents wave goodbye to young adult daughter holding her suitcase and passport at the airport.

As our children spread their wings and leave the nest, we are often left with a bittersweet mix of emotions. Pride, joy, and anticipation for their future are intertwined with a sense of loss, loneliness, and uncertainty about our own and their lives. This emotional rollercoaster known as Empty Nest Syndrome (ENS) is one many parents will embark upon. While ENS is not a clinical condition, the impact of children leaving home can affect parent’s health and wellbeing, triggering intense mental, emotional and relationship distress which is often unrecognized or ignored.

When our children depart, we may find ourselves grappling with a profound sense of emptiness with the once lively home suddenly feeling quiet and unfamiliar. Further impacting our mental health, we may question our purpose and struggle to redefine our identities beyond our parenting role.

Particularly given how safe Hong Kong generally is, we may also feel a heightened sense of worry and concern for our children as they navigate the world independently, more so if they move hours away from home and/or if they do not have immediate family nearby. The media constantly bombards us with stories of threats and challenges, amplifying our fears for their safety and well-being.  

Many Hong Kong families may also be concerned about their children’s abilities to manage domestic tasks and eat a healthy diet – a worry that comes up often in parenting workshops.

Amidst this emotional upheaval, how can we, as parents, maintain our mental health?

Prepare for launch. Let’s start by considering ourselves as Bird Launchers rather than Empty Nesters! As bird launchers, we can prepare our children to fly high at college. For example, if we have concerns regarding our children’s skills, we can proactively equip our children with culinary and domestic skills, enroll them in a driving school, sign them up for a first aid course, and – trust me, this is a big one – teach them how to fill out a form! Let us remember we have raised our children with love, values, and the skills they need to thrive.

Acknowledge and validate your feelings. Reach out to your support network of friends, family, and loved ones. Share your experiences, fears, and hopes with those who understand and can offer a listening ear and words of encouragement. There is strength in community.

Embrace the opportunities for personal growth and rediscovery. Now is the time to dust off those long-forgotten hobbies, pursue new interests, or even embark on a career change. As many will attest, Hong Kong’s vibrant community, collaborative spirit, and shared resources provide invaluable support for new ventures and career transitions. Rediscover the passions that may have taken a backseat during your years of active parenting. Engage in activities that bring you joy, fulfillment, and a renewed sense of purpose.

Strengthen your relationships with your spouse or partner as you both navigate this transition together. Plan date nights, shared adventures, or simply enjoy quiet moments of connection. Rediscover the love and companionship that brought you together in the first place.

Empty Nester parents walking along the Hong Kong waterfront. Depicting embracing couple time to counter Empty Nest Syndrome.

Maintain open lines of communication with your children. Schedule regular check-ins, whether through phone calls, video chats, or visits. Share in their excitement as they embark on new adventures and offer a supportive ear when they face challenges. Remind them that no matter the distance, your love and support remain unwavering.

Practice self-care and prioritize your mental health. Engage in mindfulness exercises, such as meditation or deep breathing, to find moments of calm amidst the emotional turbulence. Consider joining a support group or seeking the guidance of a therapist who can help you navigate this transition and develop coping strategies tailored to your unique needs.

Remember, dear parents, Empty Nest Syndrome bears testament to the love and dedication you have poured into your children’s lives. As you embark on this journey, be kind to yourself. Celebrate the joys, acknowledge the challenges, and know you are not alone. Together, we can navigate this emotional landscape and emerge with a renewed sense of purpose, stronger relationships, and the knowledge that our roles as parents continue to evolve and shape the lives of our beloved children.

Photo Credits:
First image: Istock pc: Lemono
Second image: Istock pc: Kupicoo

References

Stabiner, K. (2008). The empty nest: 31 parents tell the truth about relationships, love, and freedom after the kids fly the coop. Hachette Books.

Unite Group. (2021, October 5). 9 in 10 parents experienced grief after kids left for university this yearhttps://www.unitegroup.com/articles/9-10-parents-experienced-grief-after-kids-left-for-university-this-year-05-october-2021

Thompson, D. & Vailes, F. (2019). How to grow a grown up. Prepare your teen for the real world. Vermilion.

 

Odette Umali, Hong Kong Parenting Coach

Odette Umali

About the author
Odette Umali, Founder of Gordon Parenting, pioneered Parent Effectiveness Training (P.E.T.) in Hong Kong, Macau, and the Philippines. A certified P.E.T. Instructor and Parent Educator, she has enriched parent education for international schools, corporations, and NGOs. Odette is a mother of two grown children who, in recent years, have flown the nest.

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