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Last Updated on November 26, 2020

How to Cope With Empty Nest Syndrome and Be Happy Again

How to Cope With Empty Nest Syndrome and Be Happy Again

Empty Nest Syndrome is not a mental disorder or clinical diagnosis. Instead, it is a term used to characterize the real feelings of deep sadness, angst, and loneliness that parents can feel when all of their children are grown and leave home.

It is a very real and sad experience for many parents. Not all parents who raise children experience Empty Nest Syndrome. However, for those who think they may be prone to Empty Nest depression, there are things you can do to prepare yourself.

If you are already in the empty nest phase and are experiencing this syndrome, then there are also some ways you can help yourself overcome the sadness.

The Experience of Empty Nest Syndrome

For most parents and caregivers who experience Empty Nest Syndrome, it triggers the grieving process. This is more often experienced by parents whose primary life responsibility is caring for their children.

Research has shown that both mothers and fathers experience similar levels of Empty Nest Syndrome, but parents with a higher level of education tend to fare better when their children leave[1].

It can be compounded if there are other life events happening concurrently, such as retirement, menopause, or divorce. They have spent their days making meals, acting as chauffeur for all of the kids’ activities, and spending countless hours attending games, plays, and school functions. The parent whose life revolves around the lives of their offspring will definitely have emotions tied to the child leaving home.

The grieving process is triggered because there is a loss in that parent’s life. The child may still be alive and well, but the parents can still experience grief because that child is no longer in their home under their direct guidance and supervision.

Again, the degree that a parent experiences this grief and emotional distress varies from one parent to the next. The more the parent is heavily involved in their child’s life and activities, to the exclusion of their own activities, the more that the parent will likely experience emotional turmoil, distress, and grief.

How to Deal with Empty Nest Syndrome

1. Pursue Fulfilling Activities

For some parents, they now have a gaping hole in their life. They no longer are needed to go to sporting activities, help with homework, or cook nightly meals for their kids. For the parents who are heavily involved in their kids’ lives, this gaping hole needs some filling.

However, it can’t just be filled with meaningless activity. Parents need to pursue new interests or pick up an interest that they had previously. The more the activity feels meaningful to the individual, the more the void of the children being grown and gone can be filled.

For example, you may have an art degree that you haven’t used since you began staying at home with the kids. You always wanted to teach art classes. Getting plugged in at a local art studio that offers art classes may be a good option to look into. You may find that teaching others the love of art and self-expression through art brings you great life satisfaction.

You have to find something that is of interest to you that will help you also help you overcome the sense of loss of purpose.

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Avoid the pursuit of activities that are individual focused if you are dealing with loneliness. Instead, find activities that include others.

For example, if you enjoy photography, then join a photography club. Learn from others and develop friendships with others who are passionate about the trade. You may find that the next step would be using your photography skills to capture the memories of others and share your gift with them. Your skills and abilities can grow and flourish in the time that you now have to dedicate to them.

Figure out what you like to do, and then get involved in this activity in a way that involves other people. Support groups can also be great at this time.

There are other activities parents with Empty Nest Syndrome have found to be helpful in moving forward. Some of these activities include higher education, volunteering with a local charity, reviving old friendships, and pursuit of a job or career.

Whatever it may be, find something that interests you and makes you feel valued. Don’t languish at home, missing your child, and hoping for your feelings to magically change on their own.

Time will help heal you, as you process the stages of grief. Finding new pursuits and interests can also help you in this process of moving forward with life.

2. Rekindle Your Romance

There are far too many stories of couples who divorce or separate after the children have grown and the youngest leaves the nest. Couples find that they have nothing in common with one another once the children are gone.

This is a perfect opportunity to rekindle your romance and focus on your relationship[2]. It is also an opportunity for you to get into a shared interest together.

You may find that you have nothing in common, and that’s okay. Find something that you can both mutually agree to do together. It doesn’t have to be a passion for both of you. Instead, it is something that you are both willing to do because you want to be together. 

Rekindle your romance by sharing life together. It could be something as simple as taking up cycling, yoga, or bird watching together. It could also be something more extravagant, like world travel.

Whatever it may be, do it together to engage one another and share the experience.

3. Spousal Support

Not all parents experience the same emotions when the last child leaves the nest. Actually, more than likely, you will have very different emotional experiences. Your spouse or partner may be too busy in his or her career to even notice that you are going through Empty Nest Syndrome.

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Share with your partner or spouse what you are experiencing. Let them know that you are having trouble coping with the children all leaving the nest and that you need emotional support during this time of life transition.

If your partner or spouse comes to you, and they are experiencing Empty Nest depression, be there emotionally for him or her. Let them express their feelings and emotions free from judgement. Offer to do an activity with them in order to bond.

It is an adjustment to the home environment and parents left behind when all the children leave the nest. Providing support to one another and reinvesting in your relationship through shared activities can help with this transition.

4. Get Help if Needed

If you are having difficulty coping with Empty Nest Syndrome on your own, then seek professional help. Counseling can help you get through this stage of life.

Recognize that it is a stage and that life will be changed and new in some ways. It doesn’t mean your life situation is better or worse; it is simply different.

Seek help if you feel your grief is preventing you from completing your daily tasks and activities.

Also, if you are having trouble finding interest in things that used to be of interest, you should seek some help. Losing interest in your personal activities can be a sign of depression. It is possible to slip into a state of depression for a time because of Empty Nest Syndrome.

The five stages of grief are denial and isolation, depression, anger, bargaining, and acceptance. You may experience all, some, or even none of these when your child leaves home. It is good to understand that many parents do experience all five of these stages of grief if they have Empty Nest Syndrome[3].

Empty Nest Syndrome: 5 Stages of Grief

    If you find that you are stuck in the stage of depression and you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, then professional help, such as counseling, is highly recommended in order to avoid developing a full blown mental illness.

    How to Avoid Empty Nest Syndrome

    There is no fool-proof method for avoiding Empty Nest Syndrome. However, there are some ways to help prevent it from happening.

    1. Help Your Child Prepare to Leave the Nest

    For many parents who experience Empty Nest Syndrome, the angst being felt is often related to feelings that their child may not be ready to take on the world. In the time leading up to their departure, it is a time to prepare them.

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    Ensure that they have all the supplies and skills needed. Do they know how to cook basic meals and work laundry machines? Do they know how to use city transportation if needed? Do they have everything they need to live in their new housing?

    Help them to prepare for their departure by equipping them with basic life skills that they will need to survive and thrive on their own. When your child moves, being there to help them get settled into their first apartment or living quarters is also helpful in this process.

    You can talk through setting up a home, how to meet neighbors, and how to be safe at home by locking all doors, even during the day. These topics can help them visualize themselves being not only successful on their own, but also safe and competent.

    2. Reassure Yourself and Your Child

    Some of the stress of a child leaving is that their home is changing. They now have a new home, whether that be an apartment, dorm, or something else.

    Let the child know that their home base is still with you. This will help reassure you and them that you belong together, even if you are miles apart.

    If you want to have close and healthy relationships with your grown children, then you must reassure them that you are always there for them and the door to home is always open as well. This doesn’t mean that you need to be the financial provider for your adult children.

    I know of adult children who have paid rent to their parents. Whatever arrangements work for your family members are fine, as long as the child knows that they have you, as the parent, to count on if all goes wrong in life.

    Acknowledge that your child may also experience emotional stress and turmoil in leaving home. Be there for encouragement in your child’s life. Being available by phone or text is also helpful to a child who may be experiencing stress in their departure from home.

    Every child is different. Just be aware of the potential for these emotions from your child. Be prepared to provide comfort, encouragement, and emotional support. One way that can help you both is to have a weekly phone call scheduled for the same time each week.

    3. Have Interests and Activities Outside of Your Children

    In order to not fall hard into Empty Nest Syndrome when your children all leave home, take the time for your own hobbies and interests. These should be interests that are outside your family and children.

    Taking the time to pursue your own interests and hobbies keeps you grounded as an individual[4]. This also helps parents in their own self care.

    We all need time to do things that are just for ourselves. It is not that we are being selfish. It is investing in yourself so that you can come back and care for your family in a refreshed and invigorated way.

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    Doing things that you enjoy and finding passion are helpful to making your life fulfilling. Don’t forget about yourself while caring for your loved ones.

    Someday they will leave the nest. When that day comes, it will be an opportunity to pursue your interests a bit more because you have more ample time.

    Don’t put all of your interests to the wayside for the sake of your family, or you are doing both your family and yourself a disservice.

    If you’re not sure what to do as a hobby, here’s How to Find One That Fits Your Personality.

    4. Invest in Your Marriage

    Take the time now, while the kids are still at home, to connect with your spouse or partner. Engage one another daily with conversation that doesn’t revolve solely around the children.

    Find interests and hobbies that you can do together so that you feel connected. Someday, the kids will be grown, and you will be left together in an empty home. Things will get quiet, and it can be deafening if you don’t know how to connect with the other person left in the home with you.

    Take the time and effort now to go on regular date night, to spend time together outside of the children, and to find activities you enjoy doing together. Check out these 50 Unique and Really Fun Date Ideas for Couples.

    Final Thoughts

    Not all parents experience emotional lows with Empty Nest Syndrome when their kids leave the nest. Some parents look forward to the day when their children are off on their own and they can reclaim their home for themselves.

    For many parents, it is a mix of emotions. You look forward to more time for yourself and your interests. On the other hand, you will miss your children being around all the time.

    Recognize that these varied emotions are normal. Know that the feelings of sadness and emotional angst will pass, but don’t count on it passing without some active change happening on your part.

    Your children may need you less now that they are grown, but there is a whole world out there that needs you.

    More Tips on Changing Your Life

    Featured photo credit: Charles DeLoye via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Pakistan Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology: Empty Nest Syndrome and Psychological Wellbeing among Middle Aged Adults
    [2] Marriage Dynamics: Reconnect with Your Spouse During the Empty Nest Years
    [3] PSYCH-MENTAL HEALTH NP: Stages of Grief
    [4] Harvard Business Review: Working Parents, Save Time for Hobbies

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    Dr. Magdalena Battles

    A Doctor of Psychology with specialties include children, family relationships, domestic violence, and sexual assault

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    Last Updated on April 19, 2021

    Understanding Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: 5 Levels Explained

    Understanding Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: 5 Levels Explained

    Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a theory of motivation that lists five categories of human needs that dictate individual behavior. These five categories refer to physiological needs, safety needs, love and belonging needs, esteem needs, and self-actualization needs.[1]

    Motivation plays a big part in athletic coaching. I spent 44 years coaching basketball and each day at practice, I was trying to motivate our athletes to give their best effort. In this article, I will examine Maslow’s hierarchy and five areas of needs from an athletic perspective.

    1. Physiological Needs

    These needs represent the most basic human survival needs. They include food, water, rest, and breathing, and all four have importance in athletics.

    Food has had an evolution in the world of athletics. I cannot recall my coaches in the 1950s and ‘60s mentioning anything about food. As time went on, the pre-game meal became important. Steak seemed to be the meal of choice early in the evolution. Research then indicated pasta would be the better choice.[2]

    Today, I think most coaches prefer pasta. However, if the players are ordering from menus, some coaches believe the players should stick with their regular diets and order accordingly.

    The next step in this evolution was that the pre-game meal, although important, is not nearly as critical as the athletes’ overall nutrition. At our University of St. Francis athletic seminars, we invited nutritionists to speak and to educate our players on their nutritional habits.

    The ultimate change in food intake may be the Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback, Tom Brady. He adheres to a specific, disciplined diet that has allowed him to play superb football at age 43.

    Water also has had an evolution in sports. It went from not being allowed in practices to coaches scheduling water breaks during the practices.

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    Rest is extremely important in all sports, and statistics validate its importance. NBA research found that during the course of the season teams win 6 of 10 games at home but only 4 of 10 on the road. In the NBA playoffs, the statistics change to 6.5 at home and 3.5 on the road. Many coaches believe rest is the key factor to these statistics because the players are sleeping in their own beds for home games.[3]

    Our St. Francis basketball team found the importance of breathing on a trip to play in a tournament in Colorado. In our first game, we were playing great and winning by 12 points early in the game. Then the altitude kicked in, adversely affected our breathing, and we lost the lead and eventually the game.

    In our second game, having learned our lesson, we substituted more frequently! Maslow’s idea of physiological needs plays a major part in the athletic arena.

    2. Safety Needs

    Safety needs include protection from violence, emotional stability and well-being, health security, and financial security.

    If a fight breaks out during a basketball game, there can be serious injuries. This is the reason a coach steps in immediately when there is any violence or dirty play in practice. The coach must protect the players. You drill your teams to play hard—never dirty.

    The importance of emotional stability has gained more credence in sports in recent years. Many teams hire psychologists to help work with their players. There is a great deal of player failure in sports and it is critical for the players to stay emotionally stable.

    Health security is much more prevalent in sports today than in my playing days. I once got a concussion during a basketball game. We had no trainers. The coach handled it by telling me after the game, “Sullivan, you play better when you don’t know where the hell you are!” He was right, and my medical treatment ended there! Games today have trainers available to protect the health of the athletes.

    Financial security is predominant in professional sports. Most players today use free agency to go where the money is because they consider sport not to be a sport at all. They believe it is a short-term business at their level. I personally appreciate the athletes who have taken less money so the team can retain teammates or use the dollars to bring in new players.

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    3. Love and Belonging Needs

    These needs can be summed up with two words: love and relationships.

    After teams win championships, you will often hear coaches say, “I love these guys” or “I loved coaching this team.” You can tell by their body language and the tone of their voice that they really mean it.

    I think coaches say this because the season can be a tough grind. Practices, scouting, film work, travel, and problems that arise take a toll on coaches. However, when you have teams that give all they have every night in practice, you do come to love them.

    ESPN did a 30-30 segment on the North Carolina State national championship team coached by Jim Valvano. I was especially interested in watching it because I knew a player on the team who used to come to our camps. Terry Gannon played a major role in their championship.

    The program was a reunion of their players. This was 20 plus years from their title, and if you were to take one thing away from the show, it would be how much the players loved each other.

    In the last analysis, sport is all about relationships. You can meet former teammates with whom you played 40 to 50 years earlier and that athletic bond is as strong as it ever was. Although you may have not seen each other in years, your friendship is so cemented it’s like you have been seeing each other weekly.

    David Halberstam’s book, The Teammates: A Portrait of a Friendship, validates the relationship between athletics forges. Ted Williams is dying and three of his former Boston Red Sox teammates—Bobby Doerr, Johnny Pesky, and Dom DiMaggio—make the trip to Florida to see him. Even though 50 years had passed since they played together, the bond among them never waned.

    Love and belonging epitomize the essence of sports.

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    4. Esteem Needs

    These needs are characterized by self-respect and self-esteem. Self-respect is “the belief that you are valuable and deserve dignity.” Self-esteem is twofold—“it is based on the respect and acknowledgment from others and esteem which is based on your own self-assessment.”[4]

    Often the players on the bench are the ones the coach respects the most because they work so hard in practices yet receive none of the glory. The best coaches never let the starters or stars ever denigrate the players on the bench. Coaches must always acknowledge the value and the dignity of those who play little. They often turn out to be the superstars of their professions.

    Some coaches will never get “it.” They think they can motivate their players by degrading them. They embarrass the athletes during games and they constantly berate their performance in practices.

    Great coaches are just the opposite. They are encouragers. They do push their players and they push them hard, but they always respect them. Great coaches enhance the self-esteem and confidence of their players.

    5. Self-Actualization Needs

    “Self-actualization describes the fulfillment of your full potential as a person.”[5]

    I believe three words are the key to self-actualization: potential, effort, and regrets.

    You often hear in athletics that a player has potential. It also is not uncommon for the person introducing the athlete to rave about his potential. I was fortunate to work with an outstanding man in the Milwaukee Bucks camps, Ron Blomberg. Ron had the best definition of potential that I ever heard: “Potential means he hasn’t done it.” Will he do all the work necessary to fulfill his potential?

    Effort is great, but it’s not enough. If you want to reach your full potential, you must have a consistency of effort in your daily habit. Only consistency of effort can lead to success.

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    John Wooden, the legendary UCLA basketball coach, said that success is becoming all your ability will allow you to be. He agreed with his friend, major league umpire, George Moriarty, even though he used to kid him. Coach told him he never had seen Moriarty spelled with just one “i.” He followed this with, “Of course, the baseball players accused him of having only one ‘eye’ in his head as well.”

    In his poem, The Road Ahead or The Road Behind, Moriarty wrote,

    “. . . for who can ask more of a man
    than giving all within his span, it seems to me, is not so far from – Victory.

    When your life is winding down and you look back if you can say you gave “all in your span”—that you consistently gave it your best effort—you will have reached your full potential and there will be no regrets.

    Final Thoughts

    Now that you’ve learned more about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, consider reflecting on the last two needs (esteem needs and self-actualization needs) and ask yourself the following questions:

    • Are you doing all you can to enhance the self-esteem of those around you?
    • Are you doing all you can to self-actualize the potential you have been given?

    Featured photo credit: Joshua Earle via unsplash.com

    Reference

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