When the Fledglings Fly

As parents we spend about 18 years nurturing, supporting and encouraging our children to become incrementally more independent so that when they finish their A levels, they attempt to leave the family unit.

Whilst this is a significant, exciting and often fairly terrifying move for the 18 year old, it is also significant and fairly terrifying for the parent/s and siblings left behind.  Apart from short periods of separation for school camps, or holidays with friends/relatives the young adult is now moving off for the first time to his/her independent life.

After the mounting stress of supporting your child through years of exams, university visits, university choices, personal statement, university offers, more exams and finally results, you are now preparing yourselves for a major shift in your relationships - with each other and with those left in the family home.

Logically as a parent you think your child moving off to the next part of their life is a good result - the culmination of years of effort; the natural progression and what you had always hoped for them.  Beyond the logical part of this 'loss', there is a parent in mourning.  A part that is unfortunately referred to by the wholly inadequate catch-phrase 'empty nest'.  To my mind, this does not remotely cover the powerful range of emotions now being experienced by the parent/s.

It is well-documented that mothers feel this rise of emotions more keenly then fathers; however Tom Utley wrote in The Daily Mail 26th September 2011 a brave and refreshing account of his experience as his fourth child left home for University entitled  'After 26 years, our four boys have all left home. Is it too unmanly to admit I'm suffering Empty Nest Syndrome?'

The emotions experienced as the young adult leaves home defies explanation.  Seemingly from out of nowhere comes a welling up of tears and feelings of emptiness, loss, anxiety and even abandonment.  The rational mind is able to reason and understand what is happening, yet these emotions rise from a deep place inside us which seem illogical and uncontrollable.

These emotions are similar to those elicited when experiencing a bereavement - and as with bereavement, no-one can predict how long you will grieve.  These feelings will last for how ever long it takes for the new dynamics at home to feel 'normal'. 

Children leaving home is a huge life change.  Using a Counsellor to explore and make sense of these profound symptoms of change can help alleviate some of the loneliness whilst validating your very real experience.

Human beings are the only creatures on earth that allow their children to come back home - Bill Cosby

After the Babe Arrives

A male client once told me how he thinks it is a cruel trick of nature that once a woman has had her babies she is no longer sexually interested in her man, now the father of her children.  His opinion was formed by his own experience of having a close intimate relationship with his long-term partner until their twin boys arrived.

It does seem to be a frequently experienced phenomenon for the couple who were in a loving, equal relationship to find much has changed beyond the baby's arrival.  Indeed, for some, this is experienced as soon as the pregnancy is confirmed.  Sometimes the man feels strange about making love to his now pregnant partner, and sometimes it is the pregnant mother-to-be who is not interested in sex or feels protective of her unborn child.

There is no doubt that the arrival of the first baby completely changes the couple unit - they are now a family, and whilst being completely besotted with their new baby, their relationship has changed forever and their individual identities have also changed forever.  They have become parents jointly and mother and father separately.  They have very little or no time for each other as a couple because all the attention is now on the baby.

Whilst some couples manage this transition really well - are full of understanding and love for each other in their new joint situation and in their exhaustion - many couples struggle to get back what they feel they have lost and struggle to find themselves in their new roles.  This is often more apparent with new dads who feel pushed out, supplanted by the baby who is now the centre of his woman's world; and who feel the weight of responsibility of having a new dependent.

It is however possible to reclaim your intimate relationship with your partner if the will to succeed is there for both of you.  If the dialogue around sex and physical tenderness has become embarrassed it will be hard to move forward without some helpful intervention.  It is important not to allow the rift in your physical relationship to continue for more than a few months - habits quickly form and are harder to break the longer they exist.

Starting a family need not be the end of the intimate relationship you had.  With determination and mutual understanding you can be both a family and a loving, connected couple.