Ruth Langsford talks pain of empty nest syndrome: ‘I felt like my womb had been ripped out’

·Contributor, Yahoo Life UK
·7-min read
Ruth Langsford has opened up about suffering from empty nest syndrome, pictured in July 2022. (Getty Images)
Ruth Langsford has opened up about suffering from empty nest syndrome. (Getty Images)

Ruth Langsford has spoken about “the pain of empty nest syndrome” after dropping her son off at university for the first time.

The Loose Women presenter, 62, said she felt like her “womb had been ripped out” in the weeks after saying goodbye to 20-year-old Jack, who she shares with husband Eamonn Holmes.

Ahead of the first new university term in the UK she recalled sniffing her son’s pillow to help cope with him not being there.

“I truly understand the pain of empty nest syndrome,” she told Woman and Home magazine.

“The day we dropped off Jack at university, we said goodbye and, as we got around the corner, I burst into tears.

“It sounds dramatic but for the next three days, I felt like I’d had my womb ripped out. It was pain.

“I was sitting on his bed, sniffing his pillow, and I kept his bedroom door shut so I could imagine he was in there.”

Thankfully, Langsford said she has learnt to cope with the situation, knowing her son is happy at university, and no longer gets as upset when he leaves.

Watch: Ruth Langsford responds to rumours of Loose Women feuds

What is empty nest syndrome?

Empty nest syndrome is a term coined to describe the feelings of loneliness and sadness some parents experience when their children grow up and leave home.

Some common emotions parents may experience when their children leave home include:

  • Feelings of sadness, loss or grief

  • Feeling like you have a lack of purpose

  • Having a sense of loneliness

  • Being worried about your child’s safety or ability to look after themselves

  • Having a sense of disconnect from your child

Read more: How family of 13 manages the cost of living crisis

Empty nest syndrome can leave parents suffering feelings of loneliness. (Getty Images)
Empty nest syndrome can leave parents suffering feelings of loneliness. (Getty Images)

"If you’re a parent whose child is about to leave for university, it’s natural to feel a range of emotions," explains Paul Guess, case management officer at wellbeing charity caba.

"You’ll no doubt feel happy they have achieved a place and are embarking on an exciting new adventure. At the same time, you may also be feeling a sense of sadness or loneliness. These conflicting feelings, often referred to as ‘empty nest syndrome’, are common."

According to Hannah Ellis Carmichael, director and co-founder of the Living Well Alone Project children leaving home is a huge adjustment which many parents don't anticipate.

"Parents are so focussed on helping their kids navigate the transition to living independently - usually for the first time - that they don't think about the impact on themselves until much later," she explains.

"But if large parts of your life have been devoted to caring for your kids, it's normal to feel a sense of loss when they're not there anymore."

Empty nest syndrome is more common than you may think. UK charity Family Lives says it receives a spike in calls from anxious parents at the beginning of term.

Many worry about their child and how they will cope with being away from home, while others are troubled by the idea their relationship with their partner might suffer now they’re on their own again.

Thankfully, like Langsford has discovered, there are some ways to cope with these feelings of anxiety and loss.

Talk to other empty nesters

If your child is about to leave for university, you may know other parents who are in the same boat. If so, starting a dialogue about your feelings may reassure you that you’re not alone.

"Getting things off your chest and acknowledging how you feel can bring immediate relief too," advises Guess.

"Remember, you’re not alone. Forums such as Mumsnet, Family Lives or Netmums all offer a great place to connect with other empty nesters who can offer invaluable advice and support."

Read more: Christine Lampard on ‘health anxiety’ as a mum

Reconnect as a couple

Many coupled parents struggle with empty nest syndrome because they feel 1-2-1 time with their partner over the years has been lost to family chats – and now suddenly, it’s just the two of them.

If you’re feeling lost for conversation, Guess suggests saving the awkwardness by telling your partner how you feel.

"With all that extra privacy in the house you can start to rekindle your relationship and get to know one another again," he says. "Try doing things you used to do for fun before your family came along, such as having more evenings out or weekends away."

Or you could try taking up a new hobby together.

"It may feel strange when you start doing things for yourselves after decades of putting your children first but having more quality time together should do wonders for your relationship."

Children flying the nest can be an opportunity to rediscover old hobbies. (Getty Images)
Children flying the nest can be an opportunity to rediscover old hobbies. (Getty Images)

Read more: Louise Thompson shares mental health story on video: ‘Most cruel, invisible disease'

Indulge your interests

Whether single or in a couple, Guess suggests taking some time to rekindle your passions.

"Perhaps you let a much-loved hobby slide to raise your child, or have always wanted to take up a particular activity? This can be your chance to carve out some time for yourself.

"This can be particularly relevant to single parent empty nesters as free time may suddenly feel in abundance. Try to find ways to use some of your new time for you and enjoy it."

Delay any drastic changes

Once your children have left home you may be tempted to make changes to fill the void, such as moving to a new house for instance, but Guess suggests pressing pause on any major life moves.

"While it may feel a big part of your life is coming to an end, take the time to fully adjust to your new situation before you make any major decisions," he explains.

Get active

Being more physically active is a great way to boost your mood as it helps your body release ‘feel-good’ hormones called endorphins.

"Try to take up active leisure pursuits that happen outdoors, as studies suggest there’s a positive relationship between exposure to nature and positive mental health," suggests Guess. "If you can be moderately active for at least 150 minutes a week, you’ll improve your physical health too."

Read more: Vicky Pattison says ‘genetic alcoholism’ fears preventing her from having children

There are some ways to overcome the feelings stirred up by empty nest syndrome. (Getty Images)
There are some ways to overcome the feelings stirred up by empty nest syndrome. (Getty Images)

Stay in touch but try not to pester

Today’s technology means it’s never been easier to stay in touch by phone, email, text and video chat. But it's important to find a balance between catching up and keeping track.

"When your child first leaves home, you’ll probably want to stay in touch regularly," says Guess. "But it’s important to give them space to adjust to their new life, so try to avoid smothering them by constantly monitoring their social media or calling them too often."

Guess suggests making a date for the first visit when you drop them off.

"That way, you both have something to look forward to. This is when you can discuss how they’re coping with budgeting, cooking for themselves and if they are enjoying their course."

Give yourself time to adjust

If you are struggling with empty nest syndrome, it's important to give yourself time to get used to your new normal. "It's okay to feel 'out of sorts' for a while, and to go through a grieving process," explains Carmichael.

"You may find it helpful to spend some time thinking proactively about what you want the next few weeks and months to look like. How will you spend your time? Who with? What do you want your relationship with your children to look like now?

"Sharing your feelings with a friend or therapist can also help you to get some perspective and work through what you're feeling in a healthy way, without burdening your kids," she adds.

Additional reporting PA.