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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 November 26, 2020

    What Am I Doing With My Life? Find Your Answer Here

    What Am I Doing With My Life? Find Your Answer Here

    “What am I doing with my life?” As a life coach and business consultant, I hear this question – or some version of it – all the time. Those asking the question are likely facing one of a couple scenarios.

    One, you wake up one morning and find yourself in a job you hate, a relationship you don’t want to be in, or a life that has little resemblance to the one you had imagined. You might be feeling low, filled with frustration, shame, or regret. This is not where you wanted to be at this time in your life…it’s not the life you wanted to live.

    Or maybe you don’t feel unhappy or lost, but you wake up and realize you want something more, new, or different. You may have accomplished many of the things you’d imagined for your life, and now you’re trying to figure out what to do next.

    My job as a coach and consultant is to support my clients to be happier, more successful and fulfilled. To help them get from where they are to where they want to be, uncovering obstacles along the way. This usually involves working through a process and asking powerful questions so they can discover the answers to their biggest questions – including this one.

    What’s Wrong With Your Life?

    One of the very first things I share with my clients is this: you don’t have to figure out what you want to do with the entire rest of your life!

    You don’t have to work out what you want to be when you “grow up” or discover your entire life’s purpose. You don’t have to commit to a career for the next 20 years. I see so many people paralyzed by thinking they must work everything out for the entire rest of their lives. Of course, they feel stressed and overwhelmed!

    Instead, focus on identifying what’s next. At this age, in this stage, facing your current circumstances and ideas of personal development. I’m not saying this won’t be attached to a bigger vision, but that doesn’t mean you have to have the whole plan right now. I love MLK’s quote:

    “You don’t have to see the whole staircase, you just have to take the first step.”

    The same is true for figuring out what you’re doing with your life.

    How to Answer the Question – What Am I Doing with My Life?

    Back to the question. Let’s look at a couple of my recent clients.

    Sabine* was a smart, successful, vibrant woman. She already had several successful jobs during her career, traveled the world, had a family, and was settling back in a new city. While she originally called wanting to take her business to the next level, we soon realized that wasn’t what she really needed or wanted.

    She was trying to figure out what she was doing with her life. For her, this meant realizing she had lost her sense of self. While no one would know from the outside, she was feeling overwhelmed, lost, and unsure of herself. She was doing all the “right” things for everyone around her, but she wasn’t doing all the right things for her.

    Together, we were able to help Sabine:

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    • Get a clear picture of what she wanted for this next stage in her life.
    • Align her life and actions with her value and priorities.
    • Remember who she was and feel more like herself than she had in years.
    • Regain confidence and take action on things she had been avoiding.
    • Gain motivation, self-trust, and security in her decisions.

    Then, there’s Max*. Incredibly smart, fun and motivated, Max had successfully climbed up through his career ladder and was happily married with his first child. Life was good.

    He came to me because he was in the second scenario; Max was trying to figure out what he wanted to do next. Even though he had a great job, he was looking for more – something new, different, challenging and interesting.

    In our time together, Max was able to:

    • Identify his priorities and what was important in this next stage of life (and what wasn’t).
    • Pinpoint several new career options.
    • Uncover and work through old, limiting beliefs and thought patterns.
    • Start exploring potential new careers.

    Here’s the process and the questions I walked through with Sabine and Max. Following these will help you make progress towards identifying what you’re doing with your life too:

    Step 1: What Do You Want?

    Whenever you’re asking “What am I doing with my life?”, it’s important to take a step back, look at the big picture, and identify what you want. Frankly, if you don’t know what you want, how do you expect to get it?

    This seems simple, yet it’s often quite hard to address. When I ask this question, people often tell me what they don’t want or what’s not working. They’ve gotten into the habit of making decisions based on what’s best for their career, friends and family, or others and forget to think about what they want for themselves[1].

    Sabine originally thought she wanted to “take her business to the next level,” but when she dug deeper, she realized there was so much more. She ultimately found that she wanted to feel like herself again; to feel secure, trust and assert herself, and regain her sense of self.

    Max wanted to love what he was doing. He wanted to be in a career (or role) that he was energized and “jazzed” about.

    Your Turn:

    What do you want? Get specific.

    Is it a new career in which you feel excited and energized? A relationship where you feel honored and loved? To be confident and happy with yourself? To live in a particular place or to explore the world?

    Maybe, like Sabine, when you think you have your answer, ask yourself, “what else?” and see what comes up.

    Once you are clear on what you want, you can move to the next question.

    Step 2: Who Are You?

    Self-awareness and a little soul searching is critical for success – especially when you’re trying to figure out what you’re doing with your life.

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    Understanding yourself at a deeper level and making decisions based upon those insights will ensure that whatever you choose to do next is something that will make you happier, more successful, and more fulfilled. It will make sure that your next step is a step in the right direction, not just another step.

    While I take my clients through a series of many questions, here are a few of my favorites:

    • What is most important to you right now?
    • What are your core values? What are the beliefs, guiding principles, or ideas that are deeply important to you? Which ones are you off track with?
    • What are your passions? What gets you engaged, motivated, excited?
    • What are your skills and talents? Which would you like to use going forward?
    • What is your wish list? What do you want and need in your life/career/relationship? This might include the type of environment you thrive in, people you want to be surrounded by, or something you want in a role.
    • What is the impact or difference you want to make? How do you want to serve, contribute or add value?
    • What do you NOT want? While you don’t want to spend too much time in this space, it’s as important to be aware of what you don’t want as much as what you do!

    In her soul searching, Sabine identified that she needed to find and surround herself with her “people,” uncovered what she needed to feel safe and secure, learned she needed to delegate more, and discovered that her direct approach was getting in her way.

    Max realized what was most important to him at this stage of his life, identified the limiting beliefs that were getting in his way, learned to stop comparing himself to others, and realized how important it was to infuse humor and joy into his everyday life.

    Your Turn:

    Grab a journal. Ask yourself these questions and allow the time and space to discover the answers.

    Write everything down. Then, review what you wrote and highlight or circle what stands out or resonates the most. These are what you want to pay attention to as you move forward and think about what you’re doing next with your life.

    Then, with a little soul-searching under your belt, it’s time to move on to step 3.

    Step 3: What Are Your Options?

    If you’re asking “What am I doing with my life?” you’re clearly not happy where you are. You know you want something else. But what is that “something”? This question allows you to explore your potential options.

    At this point, it’s not about deciding the one thing or making the right choice; it’s about allowing your creative mind to expand and see all the possibilities.

    If you hate your career, what new potential careers are on your mind? If you’re unhappy in your relationship, what can you do? If you’re feeling like you need change or an adventure, what could those possibly be?

    Brainstorm ALL your options without worrying about whether they are possible or not (just yet). Make a list and keep asking yourself….what else? This allows you to dig deeper and see opportunities you might have otherwise not explored.

    Your Turn

    What are all of your possible options at this point in time? Don’t limit them if you can’t see how it’s possible, just get all your ideas out on paper.

    Once you have your list of options, then you can move to the next step.

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    Step 4: Which Options Are the Best Fit Right Now?

    Okay, so you have your list of options and possibilities. Now it’s time to narrow it down and explore those options in a little more depth.

    Once Max had a complete list of potential career options (including advancing in his current role), he narrowed the list down to the top most interesting and compelling opportunities. We then worked through each of those in greater depth.

    A fantastic way to do this is to envision your life “as if” you were in that new role/situation/relationship.

    Max imagined himself living the life in his new career options. First, he imagined himself as an REI employee. Yes, he had grown a beard and was drinking from a metal mug.

    But the next question was even more important. I asked him how he felt. He said while he was excited to be outdoors more, he realized he wouldn’t be fulfilled in that role. He definitely didn’t feel “jazzed.”

    We went through all his options, envisioning what life would be like in each role until he found the one in which he felt the most connected. We could both feel a shift in his energy immediately…he was on to something.

    Your Turn

    Go back to your options list and circle the 1-3 that you feel most connected to, energized by, or engaged with. You’ll want to make sure those options fit what you want (question 1) and who you are (question 2).

    Once you have a short list, imagine your life as if you took that as your next step. What would you think, feel, hear, and see? Does it feel good? You can also do some research at this point to learn more about each of your options.

    Then, armed with information and an idea of the next best option for you, it’s time to move on to the next question.

    Step 5: What’s Stopping You?

    This is a big one. As you explore your options, it’s likely you may come up against some barriers.

    Perhaps you have fears or limiting beliefs of what you can or can’t do or what someone said you were capable of. Maybe it’s lack of self-esteem or confidence.

    When these come up, it doesn’t mean the option is wrong; it just means you need to dig a bit further to find out what’s going on. It’s important to explore what’s getting in your way.

    With Max, he was being held back by a deep, long-time belief that he wasn’t good enough – that he wasn’t capable of taking on a higher level, higher risk role. We worked together until he could move past this perception and on to his next step.

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    Your Turn

    Think about what’s getting in your way or stopping you from moving forward. Once again, don’t stop at your first answer. Ask yourself “what else?” until you identify what’s getting in your way.

    Then, it’s time to move to the last question.

    Step 6: What Can You Do to Move Forward?

    You’ve narrowed down and explored your options, and now it’s time to take action to get past asking yourself “What am I doing with my life?” I know this part is hard.

    What if it isn’t right? What if there is something else out there? What if it’s the worst decision I ever make?

    These are all real and good questions, but not if they stop you from moving forward towards a more fulfilling life[2]. If you’re feeling hesitant about taking the next step, let me give you a different way to look at it.

    If you’re unhappy where you are now, what is the bigger risk: staying where you are out of fear of doing the wrong thing OR moving forward and seeing where it leads you? It’s better to rock the boat than to die sinking in it, right?

    Once you’ve decided, it’s time to act. What’s your first step? Take it.

    Give yourself a deadline, a timeline, or a goal to make it happen so you can move from ideas to reality.

    Your Turn

    Make a decision about which option is best for you to move forward into the life you want. Then, take the first step towards that option. Then, the next and the next one after that.

    Take a look at these 10 Strategies to Keep Moving Forward When Feeling Stuck.

    Final Thoughts

    So, what are YOU doing with your life?

    Just the sheer fact that you’re asking yourself what you’re doing with your life is a step in the right direction. A mentor of mine always said that 90% of solving a problem is awareness that it exists. You know you need to do something.

    Now, if you’re serious about moving forward, it’s time to take the time and put in the effort and answer the questions above. Then, like Sabine and Max, be willing to take action, even if you’re not exactly sure how it’s going to play out.

    It’s your life, and, yes, it can be everything you’ve imagined.

    More About the Meaning of Life

    Featured photo credit: Abigail Keenan via unsplash.com

    Reference

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