In a few months' time my twin sons will leave home. I'm fine about it, really. Well, sort of. Okay, I'll probably be clutching at their ankles, bleating, 'Why are you taking your guitar? You won't need that. And your books... why not just leave them here?' I'll feel redundant and lost - at least for a while. But then I'll adjust and all will be fine, because I've spent a long time observing friends with older children. I've seen how they've prepared for them fleeing the nest.
With the right attitude, you can thrive beyond the era of full-on parenting. I've seen friends travel across Europe in a campervan and learn to skipper a yacht. New languages are learnt, small businesses started, hidden talents discovered... not to fill the child-sized gap especially, but just because it's now possible. Life opens up. It's quite thrilling really. That's a cheering thought for when there's nothing but a hollow echo in those teenage bedrooms.
Kids leaving home? Here's how to avoid dissolving into a pool of gin...
Remind yourself of the positives. Laundry mountain dramatically shrunken, no more heading out on a bleak winter's night to collect your teen from a party. No driving around country lanes, with not a landmark in sight, cursing your kid for their vague directions ('It's up that lane off the main road, you know the one...'). No more mass catering for hoards of kids, all with varying tastes and prone to saying stuff like, 'This isn't like my mum's bolognaise.' (Read: you seriously expect me to eat that?').
Parents who breeze through the transition period tend to have maintained their own interests and passions while their offspring were still at home. Those who've devoted themselves utterly to their kids might feel pretty bereft.
Ditto prioritising your couple relationship (at least some of the time). It's easy to 'lose' each other - to communicate in commands and to-do lists - in the fug of early parenting. The key is to move hell on earth to keep taking and dating so it doesn't come as a terrible shock when it's just the two of you again.
Make it clear you'd love to see your kids - but try not to feel hurt if they don't darken your doorstep too often. They have their own lives to lead now. Barking, 'Oh, so you've finally found time to call me!' will guarantee that they don't phone again for a very long time. No one enjoys being guilt tripped.
Do something different. No need to keep jogging along in the same old vein, just with less people about. Kids leaving home is a good time to reassess where you live, what you do for a living: finally you have the headspace to consider your life with fresh eyes. When our boys leave my husband and I plan to sell our old family house in the country and move to a city flat. Whereas it once seemed important to have access to wide open spaces, we now crave cinemas, galleries and coffee shops. Not every empty nester wants a quiet life in the country. There's still life in the old dogs yet.
Fiona's latest novel, As Good As It Gets?, is published by Avon