Bestselling author Adele Parks reveals how she plans to deal with an empty nest when her only son leaves home for university this month.
As thousands of teenagers prepare to leave home to start their first year at university, their parents face being left behind and trying to cope as empty nesters.
Top author Adele Parks, whose latest novel Lies Lies Lies focuses on a couple’s attempts to have a second child and the issue of infertility, is saying farewell to her only child Conrad, 18, as he heads off to Warwick University to study Spanish and Russian.
She and her husband Jim will be empty nesters for the first time but she says you can turn it from a negative into a positive.
“Empty nesting gives you a moment to concentrate on yourself because most of us have been spending our lifetime concentrating on our children,” she reflects.
“I believe every family will have a different way of dealing with empty nesting. When Conrad has been away from home, whether it be on school trips or just out for the evening, we’ve been quite used to having an empty house.
“If you’ve got two, three or four kids your house is never empty so when the fourth one goes, the experience would be very different to ours.”
Here, Parks offers gentle suggestions as to how to manage that empty nest feeling.
1. Plan days out and holidays
“I have booked lots of nice things to do. We have theatre tickets booked, we’ve got a little visit to a German Christmas market in December and we’ve booked a big spring holiday to Australia, which is a work/play trip.
“I had those in the diary as bucket list items so that I knew we had things to look forward to.”
2. Reconnect with your partner
“If you have a partner at home, you have an opportunity to reconnect and work on that relationship. If you’ve had more than one child, it’s so easy to say, ‘Oh, you take that one to football and I’ll take the other one to ice skating’ and you often go your separate ways.
“It’s good to reconnect, even if it’s choosing which TV shows you can watch together, or going for walks together. Make an effort to spend the time you used to spend with your kid with your partner.
“Jim and I both work from home so we see each other all the time. It’s like we’re prematurely retired although we work. Early on, we carved out time where we made a decision not to talk about work after 5.30pm and we both recently joined a gym.”
3. Find a new structure
“If you are single, find yourself a new structure, join some clubs. I keep threatening to take singing lessons and I’m a lousy singer, but I read recently that everyone can improve to some extent, so this is my moment.”
4. Make use of the extra space in your home
“I’m terrible – I’m already mentally planning redecorating a lot of space because Conrad spreads around our house quite a lot! He has a room where he plays video games and I think it could make a really nice ironing room.
“We have a lot of stuff from his childhood so we’re having a bit of a clear-out, but I wouldn’t change his room because I always want him to think he can come back to his room. It’s disorientating for a child if that’s gone.”
5. Be prepared to be around…
“I want to be available because you never know how it’s going to go in those first few weeks and if he’s going to enjoy uni, bring his washing home and all those things.”
6. … but don’t cramp their style
“Conrad’s just been away for a month in Mexico, working as a volunteer and teaching English to disadvantaged kids.
“When he went, I said, ‘You will FaceTime me, won’t you?’ Not a single FaceTime. But we did get WhatsApp messages and pictures on a daily basis and if I didn’t get them, I would send him a message saying, ‘What’s your news?’
“But I didn’t push it because I’m very aware he’s 18 and an adult. But I want him to know that we’re always here if he needs us.”
7. Be aware of gender differences
“My sister has two girls and a boy and her girls went to university first and they literally texted and talked every day many times. Then her boy went and she ended up texting him, ‘Are you still alive?’ So I think there is a gender difference.”
8. Don’t play the guilt card
“It’s pretty selfish for me to wail and moan about being on my own because that will take the enjoyment away from him because he’ll feel guilty or worried. That’s not a child’s job.
“A child’s job is to go out and be launched and be the next generation and have a great time, not to worry about their parents.
“I mean, they have to worry about us when we’re 70, 80 and 90 so they shouldn’t have to worry about us now.”
Lies Lies Lies by Adele Parks is published by HQ, priced £7.99 paperback, £5.99 ebook. Available now.