Empty nest brings many joys

Many parents who fear they will
suffer empty-nest syndrome after their children leave home have little to worry
about, according to research.

A poll of 2,000 parents whose
children had recently gone to university found that most felt fitter and
richer, with better social lives and an improved relationship. On average the
parents questioned felt 10 years younger; had increased their circle of friends
by five people, and were able to socialise three extra times each week; and had
taken up new hobbies such as foreign travel and keeping fit, with more than
half dreaming of an extreme hobby such as snowboarding, bungee jumping or white
water rafting.

Financially they were nearly $759 a
month better off, with some renting out spare rooms. They also had far more
free time because there was less ironing, cooking and tidying up to do.

The survey, carried out by OnePoll
on behalf of Unite, a company that develops and manages student accommodation,
also suggested that parents experienced a boost in their love lives. The vast
majority (84 per cent) of respondents noticed a marked improvement. But some
admitted that the departure of their children marked the end of their
relationship because the one thing they had in common had gone.

Pat Spungin, a psychologist and
parenting expert, argued that in the past parents had found themselves at a
loose end. “Now there are so many opportunities. If you have kids in your
mid-20s and have two or three, by the time they have left you are coming up for
50 – and 50 is the new 40,” she said.

Paul Jenkins, 55, said he and his
wife, Wynne, were able to do all the things they had dreamed of when their
fifth and final child left home for university last year. Before they had not
had the time or money. “Each time another one left I was able to try something
new, such as getting fitter, home improvements and going to concerts,” he said.

The house has been transformed;
they have managed to get the kitchen refitted and raised money by renting a
room to a lodger. “Life seems so much more balanced now,” he said. “I go to
Pilates class every week and I’ve taken up Nordic walking – a type of
cross-country hiking using ski poles.” He has also discovered Glastonbury
Festival and attended for the past four years, occasionally bumping into his

Jeremy Todd, chief executive of
Parentline Plus, described the findings as encouraging, but said it was not a
positive experience for all parents. “Others may be anxious about their child’s
life skills as they prepare to live away from home for the first time and worry
if they will manage their money, be able to make a decent meal and not spend
all their time at the student union making the most of cheap alcohol
promotions,” he said.

The charity has issued tips for
parents whose children are about to leave home, but warns: “Don’t forget that
if they are going to college they will soon be back in the holidays. Prepare
yourself for this if you have got used to having the place to yourself.”