Empty-nest syndrome. The phase within a parents’ life when their children have “flown the nest” and suddenly they feel a sense of grief. What is the purpose of their lives without their children? What do they do now? Well, this is a feeling I have suddenly become very familiar with; however, I’m not a 50-year-old parent of three; I’m 21 and child-less. Hannah shares her experience.
When my parents dropped me off at university four years ago, I didn’t feel too bad; I didn’t have a feeling of abandonment, I was ready to start my life as an independent adult. In my first year, I went home for the holidays, but I wasn’t the kind of person to feel the need to go home every other week. Second-year came, and this trend continued – I loved being in my own space, my own house with my friends where it was my rules. Of course, I occasionally missed my home, especially when I caught fresher’s flu, and nothing was more appealing than my Mum making me some soup and looking after me. But, overall, I was fine, I was independent, and I was having fun.
my short period at home turned into an on-off stay of 18 months
Come March 2020 however, this all changed. COVID hit, and I, like other students, left to go home for a two-week isolation period until we got a “handle on the virus”. Well, we all know how that turned out, and my short period at home turned into an on-off stay of 18 months. Every time Boris announced a new lockdown, off home I went: my logic, it’s better to be at home saving money than in my uni house ordering UberEATS every day.
The pandemic and lockdown was a different phenomenon for students. We moved away from our friends, lost our social lives, lost our independence and our norm; if you wanted to sleep until 3 pm at university, you could, but at home – unlikely.
Our workload mostly stopped or at least decreased, and our purpose seemed questionable. For me, this meant a LOT of walks and FaceTime calls to keep myself busy at home. But whilst trying to keep myself busy, home became more and more comfortable. For example, I got used to talking to my parents and we got used to cohabitating as adults, rather than how we did when I was still 16, and they “just didn’t get it!!!!”. Though not easy, I found that living at home was fine, and realistically, if I weren’t living with them, I would have been alone, in a lockdown.
Then, this July, the pandemic ‘ended’ – or at least the lockdowns did – and life became a bit more normal. Clubs opened, and most of my friends were graduating in a few short weeks. But, my relationship with social events changed; I felt socially anxious for the first time in my life. I lost the ability to make conversation with anyone; the only words that seemed to ever come out of my mouth was “How was your lockdown?”.
I felt anxious to go to big events, leave the house, and have anyone look at me – some of this was probably my fear of getting COVID, but most of it was my inability to converse. And in these moments, what appealed to me most? Home. My parents were never going to judge my inability to talk – they’re stuck with me – they wouldn’t push me out of my comfort zone, they wouldn’t require me to put makeup on and do five Jager-bombs. So instead of going home at term times, I started going home every two weeks, a trend I’m keeping up with today.
I started missing home more and more, any minor inconvenience and I was ready to jump on the train
Suddenly, my relationship with home changed. For the last year and a half, instead of seeing university as ‘home’, it seemed more like accommodation – potentially because I had to go back for a new lockdown every few months. I started missing home more and more, any minor inconvenience and I was ready to jump on the train. I would feel an overwhelming sense of missing my dog – who, though cute, was not worth a £40 train ticket every other week (sorry, Bramble).
Suddenly, this huge wave of homesickness seemed to hit me, and I felt uncomfortable anywhere but home; I felt unable to look after myself. Suddenly, I felt that sense of grief that parents talk about, instead this time: I’m the bird, flapping around, trying to find my nest.
Parents who report ‘Empty-Nest Syndrome’ say the significant change causes them to question their routine. Things started opening up again after giving myself purpose during a lockdown where there was nothing to do; I no longer had time to cook dinner for my parents anymore. I didn’t need to FaceTime my best friend every day; my routine was taken from me. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what I used to do at uni.
I missed the comfort and safety that I felt at home; I didn’t need to worry about a creeping patch of mould above my bed; if a lightbulb blew, my Mum could fix it, I saved so much money. I had a sense of comfortability that I didn’t have at uni; this sense of discomfort is arguably what makes uni so great – you never know what will happen.
You never know if you’re going to get into CRISIS, you never know if your lecturers are about to strike at any second, you never know the girl you’re talking to in smokers’ name, you never know for the life of you why your friend got with that hockey player. So, this steady, safe and comfortable life that I had given myself during the pandemic suddenly became very unpredictable again, and I didn’t know how to handle my lack of structure.
my empty-nest syndrome gives me a sense of being a failure, a failure of a university student
So here I am, still a flapping bird: a 21-year-old uncomfortable with my life, unsure how to get back to my 18-year-old self, constantly worried about becoming a social hermit, missing the feeling of home more than home itself, missing my parents much more than they miss me. My empty-nest syndrome gives me a sense of being a failure, a failure of a university student – I’m supposed to be having the time of my life in my final year, but mostly I feel nostalgic for first year and the first half of my second year.
I miss being immersed in being social; back in first year, you couldn’t have paid me to miss a night out; but now, I’d instead do anything else. People don’t seem to discuss the actual personality change that COVID inflicted upon people; fear of people is something I never thought I’d suffer with – I was always so extroverted. But here I am going to house parties and hearing the question: “Where have you been?”
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