Loneliness NZ


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Empty nest and lonely

In some ways societal changes have given many parents a longer period of time being hands-on with their now older children.  For one, many young adults struggle to afford getting their own place to leave in the first place, and many boomerang back into their parental homes well into their late twenties, early thirties.

But platitudes such as “once a parent, always a parent” don’t really make it easier when you are experiencing heartache and grief because your child actually has gone to live elsewhere.  We really know how tough it is being in this new phase of your life… letting go… having an empty nest.  In some cases whole families experience the same empty nest feeling – both spouses, and siblings… the departure of one of the children affects the dynamics of everyday living for all those that remain.

Our hearts go particularly to those of you who have no other children at home…the transition from being a parent seeing your child almost every day, to not necessarily even hearing from them every week, is a very challenging mind shift. Looking back all logic tells you that you have somehow got through the other rough times of parenting – like their first day at school, your first business trip away… but we can appreciate that right now this seems so much worse… so much harder to adjust to. And especially hard when loneliness sets in…. and you can’t seem to shake it off!

So if you are one of the many parents who feels lonely as a result of experiencing your child(ren) leave home, or you know of someone who feels loneliness from this, then read on. In fact even if you suspect others might be lonely, and they stoically say they aren’t, it’s worth understanding the empty nest syndrome and loneliness better.

Scratching the surface of being lonely

Just as you might find it hard to understand how people who have their children around them might be lonely, it’s also hard for them to really grasp how very lonely you might be: what it’s like:

Struggling with silence

....the house is empty with no noisiness.

Missing young people

…gone with your youngster are all their friends, and the atmosphere of that age group.

Feeling excluded

... their friends get to hear about what’s happening in their lives long before you, if you do.

Having panic attacks

... sick with worry not hearing from your young adult.

Experiencing guilt

… replaying in your mind all the times you felt you weren’t a good enough parent.

Being an empty nester gives rise to many challenges with regard to feeling lonely...

… and in addition to these, you undoubtedly identify with many of the same loneliness problems that aren’t related to your children leaving home.

Prevalence of loneliness

If you are an empty nest household and are feeling lonely, rest assured you are not alone.

On our estimates, almost 33,000 New Zealand households become empty nest households each year – after the last child leaves home. After having at least one child at home for, on average, an estimated 24 years, you are suddenly childless again. Just like your life changed when your first child was born, your life changes again… sometimes with less than a few month’s warning. And this time, in addition to experiencing sleeplessness, you may have feelings of loneliness.

Diagram showing annual rate of New Zealand empty nest households

Exposing loneliness

Feeling socially isolated occurs when people, like you, are not connected into their communities in a meaningful way.  Society, other people and we ourselves unwittingly contribute to loneliness. To name a few, loneliness resulting from being an empty-nester might be exacerbated when:
  • Your whole identity has been as a parent.
  • Your spouse and you have such different views of your family’s new stage of life.
  • Previous transitions in your child’s life were particularly difficult.
  • You have no idea how to be married with just you and your spouse.
  • You are a single parent and there is no one else living at home with you.
  • Your youngster does not miss you, and has no interest in communicating with you.

These are very real issues for you;
and some are not quick fixes! So despite these challenges it’s vital you actively find ways to ensure that you – and those around you – are emotionally healthy.

Exhibiting signs of being lonely

Solitude is very important for people to reflect and to come to grips with their situation. Being lonely for short periods is also not necessarily unhealthy. What we are considering is the type of loneliness which is prolonged and might be damaging to an individual’s health and wellbeing. Some people talk about their loneliness; other’s don’t. Some might not recognise that they are actually suffering from loneliness.

When people are already lonely, having people around you that you aren’t able to connect with on a deeper level, might even make your loneliness worse.

Research has shown that when socially isolated people aren’t getting enough regular human contact that can create problems with their family members and people who they do end up talking to.

This manifests behaviour such as:

  • Being tearful all the time… passing their room…sitting at your large empty table.
  • Lying awake at night…  lacking sleep, worrying about your youngster;
  • Just waiting… not wanting to go out  – your child gave a vague impression they might pop in, phone… and even though there is no specific arrangement you stay at home.
  • Picking fault at everything about your spouse… as though you are noticing everything you don’t like for the first time.
  • Perpetual texting and phone calls to your child… not giving them the space they need to become fully independent with their own mistakes.
  • Increasing your internet surfing and Facebook stalking just to fill in long empty hours. 

These are just the surface of the ways you might be showing signs of being lonely… and that you could recognise in others.
So where to from here?

Conquering loneliness

We appreciate…

you all have a unique story.

How long you have been lonely;  What you believe causes your particular loneliness; and what you have already tried to alleviate the loneliness.

To get to the heart of your loneliness we would like to get to know you!

Your personality, your eccentricities, and your values are all part of what makes you feel your loneliness more than some others.

Your next step

We appreciate the trust you would place in us to talk openly and frankly – so we promise no judgements – genuine empathy, respect and confidentiality.

Then when we have understood you better, we can help you move forward. Help you form better connections with your spread out communities, with your friends and your families…wherever they are in the world.

If you are ready to take the next step, click the button to get started addressing your loneliness:

People feel lonely for many reasons. To learn more about other life stage and lonely categories, select one of the coloured boxes below, or scroll down the “I’m feeling lonely” menu.

Loneliness NZ square I'm feeling lonely logo

With our help you can conquer your loneliness by taking better care of your inner self.

And we can conquer loneliness in New Zealand by better understanding and accepting each other.

So when you are ready…click here.

We look forward to hearing your view of the world!

Stats NZ (2017), “National Family and Household Projections: 2013(base)–2038 update.” Download the data.