Empty Nest Syndrome refers to the grief parents feel when their children move out of the family home – it’s not a clinical diagnosis but a life transition that is often challenging for many.
While children growing up and moving out is a typical life event, it is still an enormous change and can be difficult for parents. It can be especially stressful when accompanied by other significant life changes such as retirement or menopause.
Letting go can be painful; as much as you are excited for their new adventures and proud of them – you’ll miss being part of their daily lives and may worry about their safety. If you have college-bound kids and feel sadness over your empty nest, know you are not alone
A study of empty nesters by 55 Places showed 66% of parents interviewed felt some empty nest syndrome.
Signs of Empty Nest Syndrome
1. Loss of purpose.
If you strongly identified as a parent and were actively involved in your children’s lives, you may miss the hustle and bustle of driving to practices, watching games, carpooling, and planning schedules.
As you adjust, you may feel you have no purpose now that this chapter of your life is over. But your children still very much need you and will come to you for help and advice. Your job as a parent may look different now, but it is still an essential part of who you are.
And you now have an opportunity to create a new identity. Where else can you find this sense of purpose – your career, volunteer work, a new business venture?
2. Feeling a lack of control.
When your child was in your home, you probably had quite a bit of control over their day-to-day comings and goings (or at least knew their whereabouts). Once a child is out of your home, you’ll miss the daily check-ins and control over the schedule. This is the time to let go and trust that they have this – it is their time to shine and use all the skills you have taught them over the years.
3. Emotional ups and downs.
It’s an emotional time – any major life transition takes a bit to get used to you. Expect to feel sad and a little overwhelmed sometimes. (Keep an eye on it and make sure that you ask for help if you’re overwhelmed all the time).
Thoughts you may have:
- Sadness that your child is growing up
- Fear of you growing older
- Angry for the times you didn’t spend with them when they were home
- Frustrated that you aren’t where you thought you would be (either professionally or in your personal life)
4. Uneasiness in your marriage.
Unsure what to do with yourself or talk about now that your lives don’t revolve around the kids? If you haven’t had much quality time over the years, now is your chance to reinvest in your marriage.
Spend one-on-one time together, doing the things you didn’t have time for before. Many empty nesters report feeling closer to their spouses after the kids move out.
5. Excessive worry & anxiety.
Parents worry. And we fear even more when we can’t see what is happening in our children’s lives every day. Please resist the urge to constantly check-in and have faith that your child is using all those skills you taught them over the years.
Challenges of Transitioning to an Empty Nest
Establishing a different relationship with your adult children.
Just because you may not see your child every day doesn’t mean you can’t have a close and fulfilling relationship. How can you shift your relationship from parent/child to adult/adult? While it may be challenging, letting go of control, and stepping out of the ‘parent’ role can help make the transition easier.
Filling a void in your daily routine.
If you have been active in your children’s lives, activities, and schoolwork, you may find yourself with some extra time on your hands. Finding ways to keep yourself busy with things you enjoy will help keep you distracted and occupied.
Letting go of the worry.
Have faith that you have taught them well! How can you help them succeed while allowing them to go out into the world and make their own mistakes?
Coping With the Stress & Depression of an Empty Nest
- Acknowledge your grief, even if other people tell you it’s a normal part of life – feel your feelings and accept that this is a difficult time for you
- Create rituals that help you cope with the change (maybe it’s a weekly chat with your child, a date with your spouse, or time to do something that makes you happy)
- Discuss your thoughts and feelings with your spouse
- Seek out others who are in the same boat and understand how you feel
- Give yourself a grace period where you take a bit of downtime
- Spend more time doing things you enjoy, like picking up a new hobby, joining a group, seeing old friends or making new ones
- Keep up regular routines like self-care, eating healthy, and exercise
- Seek professional help if life seems to be getting you down
- Put off any big decisions, if possible, until you are in a better frame of mind
One of the best ways to help cope with empty nest syndrome is to shift your mindset. Pay attention to your thoughts and turn your focus to what you can do to help you and your child succeed. And if you are struggling, reach out for help. Look to the future and the abundance of opportunity that is available for you both!
If you’d like to meet other Empty Nesters, click on this link and join our Facebook group. We’d love to meet you!