Empty nest syndrome – letting go and keeping in touch

As the holidays drew to a close, it was back to work for us working folk. The holidays were truly enjoyable as they afforded opportunities to spend quality time with friends and families. As usual, together with everything we look forward to, there is always something that we dread.

Towards the end of the holidays, my children packed up ready to go back to continue their studies far away from me. When I glanced at their luggage, I felt horrible knots in my stomach. Tears welled up in my eyes and my heart felt heavy. Oh, how I would miss them!

“We will be back in September, mum,” they said, but September is months away, thousands of hours away! But alas, life must go on. Who am I to hold my children back just because I miss them?

As parents, our children never really “grow up” in our eyes. We still see them as how they were when they were babies, vulnerable and in need of our help. This is especially true for us mothers. We fear that something horrible would befall our children when they are far from us. It is a truly indescribable feeling. Then, there’s the emptiness of being left behind.

I feel like no one really addresses the emptiness we feel when our children leave us for studies, work or marriage. Some of my close friends with children say it is selfish to “latch on” to our children. They should simply be let go to live their own lives. As the saying goes, “If you love something, you should let it go”.

As a single mother, I’ve raised my children on my own, without any assistance from anyone. When my husband died, I decided that I was going to raise them the best I could, and provide them with all that I could afford. I never remarried, for I was afraid the new person could not love my children like they were his own. I simply never saw the need to remarry as I was convinced I could handle everything by myself. I valued my children more than the need for companionship. I was delighted to spend time with my children. As I watched them mature and achieve great things, I felt proud and accomplished.

However, the dreaded time came. Finally they had to leave for further studies, albeit for a while, but nonetheless, I would not be around to look after them and make sure they were alright. No matter how much I tried to perceive it differently, it never ceased to fill me with dread.

My children and I had our arguments, be it regarding house chores or school mischief. But in the end, we always made up, hugged it out and addressed the problems accordingly.

When they finally left for their studies my life felt so empty. I had too much on my hands. I came home to a quiet house, cleaned after myself, prepared a hot meal for myself and waited for my children to call me. I felt demotivated. It was as if I had lost a purpose in life. The fact that my children seldom called home made me feel even worse. At times I would lose sleep, worried sick that something had happened to them. This resulted in numerous arguments over the phone with my children, with them claiming to be too busy to return my calls. “Am I not busy as well?” I asked them.

We would then end up bickering until both sides fall silent, until the next time it happened, which was usually a day or two after, and then we would act as if nothing happened. The signs were obvious, but neither of us realised it. There was barely any communication between us as a family.

When they were around, they always seemed to be busy on their phones. During family time, they would be scrolling Instagram or Facebook, and frankly, not being very interested in engaging in conversation. At times, it felt like a stab in the heart. Why bother coming home at all?

It was not until last Christmas that I finally decided to address the issue. As it turned out, there were some things that I would not have known had I not brought up the topic.

My children simply did not know how I felt. They thought I was okay and should not worry about them, that they “knew how to take care of themselves”.

They were also unaware of the fact that I felt somewhat lonely without them around, and had I not told them, they would still be under the assumption that I was okay. I also called them out on the phone issue, that family time is far more important than keeping up with social media. We had a lengthy talk, problems were addressed, and solutions were discussed. After that night, things started to look up.

Sometimes, our children can seem insensitive, but at times, I realised that they simply do not understand their parents. Thus, it is important to address these sorts of things, especially now, as they are growing and maturing. Communication is key to the whole thing and this is especially true in this case. For through communication can we properly understand each other.

Since then, I have found numerous ways to spend my newly found leisure time, by writing more, travelling, reading more and gardening. Sometimes I would do yoga and Tai Chi, as I have found that I sleep better with daily exercise.

My children are now more understanding; we communicate better now. They come home every time they have the opportunity, and every time they stay over, we have a whale of a time. They know of my struggles, and they now help out anyway they can.

Therefore, I urge those of you who have children, to practise proper communication. Make them understand you, and you them. Family is important, and communication is one of the key elements in a happy family. And to all children out there, please pick up the phone and call your parents and be sure to spend time with them while you can, because one day when you look up from your busy life, they won’t be there anymore!


The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the New Sarawak Tribune.