Empty nest syndrome - when my baby is only 4

I am proud of my son's growing independence, but sometimes I wish that I could go back in time to when he depended entirely on us for his every need

My son finally moved out of his crib last week.

He had been sleeping in that crib, purchased from Mothercare, every night since we brought him home from the hospital on a Monday afternoon four years ago.

When we made the move from my in-laws' place in Marine Parade to our own home in Punggol two years ago, the crib joined us.

As our son grew up, my wife and I made a lot of adjustments to the crib to meet the demands of his development.

When he learnt to stand, we had to lower the platform that his mattress was placed on.

As his body grew stronger, we changed his mattress from a harder one meant to better support the bodies of babies to a softer one, so that he could get a good night's rest.

Just last year, we took down one of the sides of the crib so that he could climb in and out of bed on his own.

I can't count how many times we had to wash his sheets and mattress because of an unfortunate diaper accident, or describe how proud I was when he was finally able to sleep through the night without wearing a diaper.

The crib was said to be suitable for children from birth to age four, and it definitely delivered on that promise. But after withstanding four years worth of drool and pee, it did not seem to my wife and I that it could last much longer.

So we bought him a new bed from Ikea last weekend, one that should serve him well at least until he is about eight.

He's not quite ready to sleep in his own room yet, though, so we've somehow managed to squeeze his bed into the master bedroom, next to our own bed.

We are also trying to get him to sleep on his own in his new bed, rather than have me carry his fidgety 16kg body from ours to his every night.

To be honest, the bed feels a little empty when I return home after a long day at work and he's asleep in his own bed, rather than cuddled up under the blanket next to my wife.

It feels strange to think of how independent my little boy has become in the past four years.

He can now feed and dress himself and he's able to do simple chores (when he's not making a mess of the house).

I no longer have to look for nursing rooms or rest rooms with changing tables because he's able to relieve himself in a regular toilet.

Less proudly, I caught him singing along to the "nah-nah-nah" refrain of Let Me Love You by DJ Snake and Justin Bieber while we were out the other day. I'd like to expand his musical tastes, though I realise it may be too soon to introduce him to the grimy wordplay of Nas and the Wu-Tang Clan.

It doesn't seem like too long ago that he was a helpless infant, just a mess of hair, barely open eyes and wrinkly skin who kept us awake at night.

Now, the stroller and baby carriers that used to take up space in the boot of the car are no longer there.

Things that used to be the norm for my wife and me, such as looking out for baby fair promotions or where we can get the cheapest diapers, are no longer part of our routine.

To me it feels a little bit like early-onset empty nest syndrome.

I worry that this is crazy, considering my son is just four and still living under the same roof as us, and sleeping in the same room even.

So I do what any reasonable person would do in a situation like this - do a quick Google search to see if this is a thing.

Thankfully, there are others with young children who feel this way too. They're mostly stay-at-home parents returning to the workforce, or sending their children to primary school or a full-day kindergarten, though.

Don't get me wrong, I understand that my son's growing independence is an inevitable part of his development. I'm very proud of how much he has grown, and I look forward to seeing his evolution into, hopefully, a responsible young man.

But, sometimes, I wish that I could go back in time to when he depended entirely on us for his every need, sleepless nights and all.

For now, I'm content that he still looks to his parents to play with and read to him, and that at night, before he goes to sleep, he still needs us there.

And as I see him clutching his bottle of milk, together with his soft toy and his bolster, it reminds me that he still needs his parents, and no matter how big he gets, he will always be my baby boy.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 14, 2017, with the headline 'Empty nest syndrome - when my baby is only 4'. Print Edition | Subscribe