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 the Empty Nest Syndrome. However, for those who think they may be prone to Empty Nest Syndrome, there are things you can do to prepare yourself for the empty nest.
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.
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What is it like to experience 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, typically mothers, whose primary life responsibility is care for their children.
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 then spent countless hours attending games, plays, and school functions. The parent whose life revolves around the lives of their off spring will definitely have emotions tied to the child leaving home.
The grieving process is triggered because there is a loss of 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 Snydrome
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.
It doesn’t mean that you need to run out and volunteer at the cancer or hospice unit today. That idea may terrify you. Instead look introspectively at yourself and what you enjoy.
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 feel that you have meaningful purpose.
Avoid the pursuit of activities that are individual focused if you are dealing with loneliness. Doing an activity alone won’t help you feel less lonely in most cases. 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, what makes you passionate, and then get involved in this activity in a way that involves other people.
There are other activities parents with Empty Nest Syndrome have found to be helpful in moving forward. Some of these activities include higher education such as University for themselves, 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 of value. 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 through 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. It is also an opportunity for you to get into a shared interest together.
You may find that you have nothing in common. 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. It is shared life experience that makes us bonded to others.
Bond yourself and 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 the Empty Nest Syndrome.
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 transition. They may be completely unaware of your feelings, unless you say it and are straight forward about your feelings.
If your partner or spouse comes to you and they are experiencing the Empty Nest Syndrome, 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 rekindle your own lives together.
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 the 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 for 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.
If you feel you are getting depressed and unable to shake it, seek professional help. It is normal to experience some depressed emotions if the grieving process has set in.
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.
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.
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.
Some key elements include preparing your child to leave the nest, reassurance to you and the child that you still belong to one another as family, having interests outside of your children, and investing time and energy in your marriage or intimate relationship.
1. Help your child prepare to leave the nest
For many parent who experience the 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, more specifically, their last year at home, it is a time to prepare them.
Ensure that they have all the supplies and skills needed. Do they know how to cook basic meals? Can they 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. Being the one to move them into their first apartment or living quarters is also helpful in this process.
You can talk through setting up in 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. You will always be their “home”. This will help reassure you and them that you belong together, even if you are miles apart. You will always be there as a parent as a safety net to help your child if they need to return home.
There are cases and instances where this happens. That’s okay. They can re-launch and leave the nest again later if needed. Let them know that you are there for unconditional support and love. This is the framework that makes lasting family relationships.
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 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 as an encouragement to your child. 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.
For example, you have a call arranged for every Sunday night at 5:00 PM. You can text and touch base during the week, but that scheduled time is to touch base and see how things are really going. Ask if they are ok. Ask if they need help with anything. Offer emotional support when needed.
3. Have interests and activities outside of your children
In order to not feel a complete void of life when your children all leave home, take the time for your own hobbies and interests. These should be interests that are outside of your family and children.
Taking the time to pursue your own interests and hobbies keeps you grounded as an individual. 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.
Doing things that you enjoy and find 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.
Not sure what to do as your 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. That quietness 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.
Having a strong relationship outside of the children is important because that day will come when they all leave the nest.
Not all parents experience emotional lows 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.
Perhaps it’s because they look forward to walking around their home in their skivvies all day or maybe they look forward to pursuing their own hobbies more. Whatever the reason, not all parents experience sadness with their children leaving the nest.
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 of the time and that thought makes you sad.
Recognize that these varied emotions are normal. Know that the sadness and emotional angst will pass, but don’t count on it passing without some active change happening on your part.
Find your passion and pursue something meaningful. Get an interest that engages others.
Your children may need you less now that they are grown, but there is a whole world out there that needs you.
Featured photo credit: Charles DeLoye via unsplash.com