Worry is an ever-present feeling for empty nest parents with children studying or living abroad
Spring Festival is a time for family reunions, and many people working and studying overseas miss their family and hometown even more at this time of the year. The same goes for their families and friends in China. Parents whose
children have left home for bigger cities or abroad are called empty nesters in China, and many go through varying degrees of longing and worry, especially around the time of Spring Festival.
Li, a woman in Beijing whose only daughter studies nursing in Australia, recalled how shocked her relatives and family friends were when her daughter Nannan decided that she wanted to go abroad to study. She said both parents and child were lectured on how unreasonable they were being, “letting the only child of the family leave.”
“It was her decision to go to Australia to study. Naturally, as parents, we want our children to have a better life and not regret things they didn’t do, so we had to let her go,” Li said.
Although she was reluctant and worried about her daughter, she and her husband joined the empty nest community.
According to the Studying Abroad magazine, a Chinese magazine that focuses on the overseas study market, the market for overseas education is booming with more than 540,000 Chinese overseas students in 2016 alone, resulting in an increasing number of empty nesters.
At the same time, with the average age of students studying abroad getting younger and younger, the new empty nest parents are also much younger. They tend to have their own careers, be middle class or above, and are usually more open-mind- ed and optimistic about their children leaving the “nest.”
Communication and worry
Chen, a full-time mother who has a good relationship with her daughter, rented a small plot of land in the suburbs after her daughter went abroad to study i 2016. Now, instead of talking about going shopping together, Chen takes pictures o the vegetables and fruits she grows and shares them with her daughter. She said their relationship remains close despite the long distance. However, she often worries.
“It’s my baby girl out there, and often there is news about campus safety incidents happening abroad. If she doesn’t reply to my messages, I would become worried and wonder about all kinds of things. But mostly it’s proved later that she was just busy,” Chen said.
Like Chen, some empty nest parents are overly concerned about the well-being their children. There have been reports of parents sending their children many WeChat messages a day asking about their whereabouts, which puts a lot of pressure on the children, according to Studying Abroad.
Besides managing the frequency of their communication, choosing what to talk about is also tricky. Many parents and children tend to tell each other only good things.
What overseas students like Nannan worry about the most is the health of thei parents. Her father had a heart attack and underwent a heart bypass surgery in
her second year abroad, but her parents decided not to tell her.
Nannan felt bad after learning about the surgery, especially because she was on vacation around that time, traveling and posting a lot of photos on social media.
“Although I wasn’t able to take care of him after the surgery, I could at least have supported and comforted him,” she said.
Sometimes the children also hide the hardships and difficulties in their lives, such as the school pressure or taking parttime jobs to earn extra money from their parents.
Dealing with the emptiness
Liu En, 68, who lives in Beijing, tries his best to fill his life with exciting things. His daughter lives in New York. She went to the US for postgraduate education and found a job there.
“My daughter left the computer with me after she went abroad, and I began to learn about stocks. It has been 10 years,” Liu said.
Liu spends four or five hours a day Monday to Friday watching the stock market and uses the rest of the time to watch movies and TV shows. On weekends, he visits friends and families for a chat over tea. “Time goes by easily and fast,” he said. Daily communication was also Wang Shaoming’s way of dealing with missing his child. A professor from Jiangsu Province, Wang has a son who lives in Munich, Germany, and in the beginning, he needed to talk to his son every day via text mes- sages and email.
Later, Wang started traveling to other cities and joined local communities of freelancers, amateur photographers and chess enthusiasts, which has proven to be immensely helpful.
According to experts, empty nest syndrome, which is caused by children going overseas to study or work, is a growing phenomenon that requires attention and support from the society.
“When their children first went abroad, parents were very happy. They were still in a period of excitement, but after that, they might feel bad,” Xing Cai, a psychology professor at Renmin University of China, told the People’s Daily Overseas Edition.
Xing said that the society should take some responsibility and arrange for family doctors and psychologists to offer counseling and support for empty nest parents on a regular basis.
The younger generation of empty nesters is in less of a crisis than the more elderly ones, he said. He suggested that the empty nesters adjust their mentality, go out more often, not worry too much about their children, and not make too many comparisons with families whose children are around them.
“I am already used to Nannan not being around during the holidays,” said Li.
The new generation of empty nesters are mostly middle-class parents with their own careers who tend to be more open-minded and optimistic about their children leaving the “nest.” Send your tips, insights or photos to or call our Address: The Global Times English Edition, 2 Jintai Xilu, Chaoyang District, Beijing 100026.