Freedom? or feeling lost?

2 min read

When your children grow up and fly the nest it means more freedom for you, but it can also be a tough time emotionally, says coach and podcaster Brenda Winkle.


On a cold morning early in 2020, when my daughter was coming to the end of high school, I was thinking about how, after being a single mum for 13 years, I’d been preparing for her to attend college in the autumn. I was confident I was ready.

When she was around 13 years old, my daughter told me that it was important for me to nourish my friendships, so I’d be prepared when she left home and so she wouldn’t have to worry about me.

I thought I’d done that. I thought I was prepared. But that morning in 2020 I woke up feeling dread, and a physical and emotional pain in my heart and heaviness in my limbs – all at the thought of her finishing school and moving to college.

I was excited for her, excited for my own freedom, yet I also didn’t want her to leave. I had things of my own I deeply enjoyed, but as a single woman, my daughter leaving would mean I would live alone.

While I had friendships and interests, a large part of each day had been dedicated to her for the past 18 years. Not only would my daughter leaving mean loss of her daily companionship, but my purpose and community would shift. No longer would I need to arrange my day around choir concerts, cross-country meets and church youth-group events. Not attending those events would mean not seeing the families involved that had become my friends.

We’re told that when we become empty nesters, we’ll have new-found freedom, and old research on empty nesters from 20 years ago talked about this freedom and an increase in health that parents enjoyed. However, more recent research indicates that while there is freedom in having an empty nest, the transition can take a toll on the health and wellbeing of parents. For many, there is a sense of loneliness and loss of purpose.

My daughter came back after a time at university, but then left home for good in 2022. We now enjoy weekly dinners and walks with our dogs, and we talk on the phone most days. Although part of me still wishes she lived with me, we are now both enjoying this new stage of life. I’ve taken up salsa and bachata dancing, and begun to travel the world. It took time, but I have learned to enjoy the freedom this new phase brings.

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