Empty nest syndrome is then worsened by having to face the reality of a new family structure and what is needed to fill that space. Picture: Wikimedia Commons

Perhaps there have been times when you have longed for your children to leave home so you can enjoy peace and quiet with diminished responsibilities.

However, when children do finally leave home, it can leave one or both parents with a surprising sense of loss. These feelings can catch us unaware because we don’t realise the full extent to which our lives, expectations and purpose have been bound up with those of our children.

Parents tend to have little time to focus on their needs outside of work and parenting. So when the role of parenting is no longer needed, it has the potential to leave a huge gap in a parent’s life. This gap can be accompanied by feelings of sadness, loneliness and a lack of purpose.

Furthermore, a child moving out of the parental home can magnify or highlight relationship or marital issues that have been obscured by a parenting role. Focusing on children and other responsibilities can draw attention away from marital issues. Empty nest syndrome is then worsened by having to face the reality of a new family structure and what is needed to fill that space.

It is vital to ensure you do not centre all your attention on your children. Make an effort to have your own social circle and interests. Ensure that you and your spouse take the time to nurture your relationship. Do this by taking up a new hobby together, scheduling date nights.

If you are a single parent, it is especially important to ensure you have a life outside of your parental role, as you may feel the loss more keenly and be unable to share it with a partner.

As with any major changes in life, one can make the transition easier by anticipating the effects. That does not mean you will be immune from the sadness or emptiness experienced when children leave home, but if you have some activities or interests separate from your children, you will have something to look forward to.

* Louisa Niehaus is a relationship expert. She has a particular interest in the psychology of love, midlife transition and awakening. She consults, internationally and in South Africa, to a broad base of clients pertaining to relationships, personal growth, trauma, conflict management and self- actualisation. www.louisaniehaus.com/