• Universities have welcomed a new intake of students, many of whom will be leaving home for the first time

  • Grief counsellor Lianna Champ offers guidance to parents struggling with an empty nest

  • We have counsellors and therapists who specialise in loss and the following inevitable transition – find yours here

We have our children, nurture them to young adulthood and, just like a plant or shrub, we have pruned and shaped them and fed them with as much knowledge, advice and wisdom we can. While they are at home we are involved with making their decisions, protecting them from danger and helping them navigate the twisting road of life. Then they leave home for university or to live independently in their own first home.

There is such an intensity about parenting, that when our children branch out into the world it’s no wonder we can find ourselves crying into one of their t-shirts, especially if we have identified strongly as a parent. We also know some of the dangers and temptations that await them in the big wide world. Losing the daily interactions and constant presence of our offspring can feel like a bereavement.

It may feel like our job is done and our children no longer need us but that simply isn’t true. There will still be those SOS calls for advice, more spending money, food parcels and of course asking if they can bring their laundry home. 

Even when your children aren’t at home, they still need you. Accept they will need you in a different way once they have moved out. Life ebbs and flows and so do we, our relationships, our needs. Nothing stays the same and we are constantly evolving, changing and developing.

Have faith that you have done your job as well as you possibly could have and, as hard as it is, we have our children knowing that they will fly the nest one day and the part that we play will lessen as they move into the world and forge their own lives.

The best coping mechanism is to prepare! Usually, you will have plenty of notice, therefore you must use this time wisely. Start to put things in motion whilst your children are still there with you. Look upon this as an opportunity for a second crack at the whip. Think of all those things that you would like to do. Hobbies and plans that may have lain dormant during those years of child rearing.


It’s all about creating new habits and routines to fill the great expanse of time that you will now find on your hands. If you’ve always wanted to try something, now is the time. Find whatever works for you. Remember, if you are trying something for the first time, they say it takes 28 days to change a habit, so persevere. Learn a musical instrument, join a painting class, exercise. Arrange meetings with your friends, create new routines for yourself so that you have some scaffolding to hold you up in those early weeks and months. And it will give you lots to talk about when you see your children and speak with them on the phone. FaceTime from different places so they know that you are ok and coping. By letting them see that you are ok and living your best life, you will be encouraging them to do the same.

Communication is important

Have a chat about moving forward and let them know how you are feeling and how important it is to you to have regular contact/visits. Also let them know that no matter what, they can always come home if things don’t go as they planned. Many great things are discovered veering off the path! If you like, don’t make too many changes to their bedroom so they have that ‘I’m home’ feeling on their visits.

You don’t want to hold them back or to feel guilty for enjoying their independence.

The future

With the children gone, you can take time to really connect with your partner. It may take a bit of an adjustment to be alone together but work at it and it can be great for you both in the long run. Set aside time to do things together and include date nights into your plans. If you want that feeling of ‘love in the air’ you need to work at it.

Lianna Champ has over 40 years’ experience in grief and bereavement counselling and is author of practical guide, How to Grieve Like A Champ

Further reading

When your child leaves for university

Why do university students see counsellors?

Why empathy is important in parenting

Life beyond the empty nest

The power in accepting what you can't change