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So your children are moving out...here’s how to deal with Empty Nest Syndrome

It happens to all parents, eventually.

So your children are moving out...here’s how to deal with Empty Nest Syndrome

Children will move out eventually, whether they are going to school overseas, getting married, or buying a place of their own.

It happens to all parents, eventually.

Your children will move out - whether they are going to school overseas, getting married, or buying a place of their own. And after decades of looking after their every need, some parents will find the void difficult to deal with. So much so that the situation has a term all its own: Empty Nest Syndrome.

In the West, the effects are well-documented - many parents expect that children will leave their childhood home early, when they head off to university, which, in a large country, could be an hours-long flight away. Former United States President Barack Obama, for example, has recounted the sadness which overcame him when his eldest daughter, Malia, left for Harvard.

But Asian children, in general, move out from home much later. Whether this has a more serious effect on parents, however, is open to question.

Singapore is small enough for weekly, even daily, visits. And the popularity of Government schemes such as the Proximity Housing Grant, which helps those who want to buy a resale flat to live with, or near to their parents or married child, also blunts the impact of Empty Nest Syndrome.

But there are some who will be affected nonetheless, said Ms Faith Hogan, founder and counsellor of Mindwise Counselling and Training.

“In Asia, children might leave later but parents might feel that their child is more equipped to live on their own by then,” she explained. “If filial piety is something that has been inculcated in them since young, that might also impact the frequency of contact which, in turn, might mitigate the severity of Empty Nest Syndrome.”

However, there are people in certain categories who might be more affected, Ms Hogan, said: Single parents; full-time homemakers; parents who feel their child is not ready to deal with life outside the family; those who generally have difficulty with adjusting to life changes; and those going through meno/andropause.

Another issue Singaporean parents could face is dealing with both an empty nest and retirement at the same time, as couples tend to have children at a later age here. This would make coping more difficult as “retirement and having children leaving home both result in a possible loss of identity and purpose and are huge life transitions”.

Experts advise that, whatever the situation, preparing for it early is a key strategy for coping.

Dr Natalie Games, a clinical psychologist at Alliance Professional Counselling, suggested directing some time and energy into exploring new or existing interests, including leisure activities, friendships, career, educational opportunities or hobbies.

“Naturally, you will still feel the loss; however, being involved in new activities will help you to adjust better emotionally and will help distract and mitigate some of those difficult feelings you may feel, including the emptiness both within yourself and your home,” she said.

Ms Hogan said that, when taking up new activities, make sure they do more than just help you kill time. While it is important to keep busy, it is equally or more important to find meaning and significance in those activities.

Tapping on your social contacts will help, too.

Ms Allison Singer, for example, is facing having an empty nest much sooner than anticipated. The 44-year-old Briton, who has been living with her family in Singapore for 10 years, was getting prepared to send her eldest daughter to university overseas this October but now her two younger children are moving out, too.

This is because her husband has landed a new job in China, and the couple has decided to send their children to boarding school in Britain.

Having all three children leave the nest at the same time has been a big shock for the close-knit family.

“It’s going to be really hard for us all,” said Mrs Singer, who is an independent human resources and career coach.

“We’re talking a lot about how we will manage communications across different time zones, what types of messages we would like to receive, and how we can still help and support each other virtually, like reading through essays for homework, for example.

“We’re also planning holidays together ahead of time so we have something to look forward to.”

What has helped is the support she has received from friends.

“One of my close friends went through something similar a year ago and shared with me how difficult she has found it, and warned me not to underestimate how hard it will be for us and them,” she said.

“This has helped as it has made us talk a lot more about the move.”

Dr Games said it is also useful to remember that when children leave home, an opportunity for their parents to enjoy quality time together opens up.

“Reintroduce date nights and make time with you partner. Develop a bucket list of what you would like to do together; plan your new joint vision for your life,” she said.

“If you’re a single parent, do start developing your social network while your children are living at home so that the transition is smoother.”

But if all these do not work, getting professional help is important.

“Life changes can trigger previous traumas,” said Dr Games.

“The change in roles and responsibilities can be difficult, and if you’ve been experiencing challenges with your mental health for a couple of weeks or more, or if the difficulties continue to return, I encourage you to go and see your GP, counsellor or psychologist.”

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