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How to Cope With Empty Nest Syndrome and Be Happy Again

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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

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    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

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