'I'm what happens on the reverse track, 20 years down the line, if you don’t make a separate life for yourself when you become a mum,' says Linda, a nanny, 44 and single mother to 20-year-old Ricky. 'When Ricky was young, I worked in a nursery so he was with me all the time. I never let my parents look after him, and even when he was a teenager, I only bothered going out if Ricky came too. I had my job and I had my son and for 18 years, it was all I wanted.'
So when Ricky met and moved in with his girlfriend, Linda felt she’d lost almost everything overnight. 'I’d lost my son, my man, my best friend. I cried constantly — though Ricky never knew that. I feel selfish for feeling so crippled by it.'
A sense of loss
'For some women, when their children leave home, it can feel like a bereavement,' says counsellor and agony aunt Suzie Hayman. 'You lose that person’s company, you lose him or her leaning on you on a daily basis, you lose your identity, if that’s what you’ve let your identity become. You can also lose the connection to your partner if, over the years, you’ve allowed yourself to communicate only as parents.'
And even if you’ve haven’t leaned on your children, if you have a full life, a loving partnership, a strong, separate identity, this stage can still feel like a new world. 'You’re saying goodbye to an era,' says Hayman. 'There’s a strong sense of not being young any more — it moves you up one category. Everyone can find that difficult.'
Psychologist Terri Apter advises to hold on to the positives. 'Yes it can be experienced as a loss, but there’s also pride,' she says. 'Your child is out there in the world which is what you’ve been working towards as a parent. You’ve been doing it for an outcome, remember that.' Most women can also draw on a huge surge of energy. 'Women often say they hadn’t realised how demanding their grown children were until they left,' says Apter.
This is your time
'When your children leave home, there’s a strong temptation to think ‘my best years are behind me’,' says life coach Fiona Harrold. 'You could be hitting the menopause, you know you can’t have another baby, your partner could be moving towards a mid life crisis. The only way to quieten that voice is to see it for what it really is — an incredible opportunity that will never come again.'