When your children leave for college, they are starting a new and exciting chapter in their lives. However, they are not the only ones facing a new beginning. Parents left with an empty nest must also start a new chapter.
Being a parent is a large part of our identity and arguably the most important, time consuming and meaningful role we play in life. It is no wonder that parents often experience a profound sense of loss when their last or only child leaves the nest, not only because they miss their child, but also because this loss challenges their sense of identity.
Even though the ultimate goal of any parent is for their kids to become independent adults, this transition, like all transitions in life, can be difficult and painful. To help prepare for this inevitable transition, it is essential that parents take steps to replace this meaningful aspect of their lives and identify possible new roles and interests sooner than later.
Here are Six Strategies for Overcoming Empty Nest Syndrome:
1. Accept the Changes
The day your children move out of your home is a major milestone. But along with the joy can come a sense of confusion, disorientation or loneliness. Your routine can feel disrupted now that you no longer have to schedule your time around your children. Accept the fact that life may feel a little strange for a while until you adjust. Ideally, you should not wait until your child leaves home to begin the adjustment process. The sooner you take action and prepare yourself for this inevitable change, the better off you will be emotionally.
2. Refocus on Your Significant Other
Your relationship often gets pushed to the back burner when you’re in the thick of raising kids. Now is the time when you can focus on your relationship again. It will likely require a bit of adjustment to being alone together. This period of parenting can either bring you closer together or shine a light on unresolved issues in your relationship. If you feel that your marriage has stagnated now that the kids are gone and there is nothing left to hold your marriage together, your relationship may benefit from professional help. An experienced couples’ counselor is trained to assist couples in navigating life transitions, rekindling romance and deepening safe and secure connections between partners.
3. Pursue Your Interests
Many parents are busy facilitating activities for their children or taking care of the needs of others. This doesn’t leave much time for enjoying your own hobbies or doing things just for yourself. After years of putting the needs of your children before your own, you can finally spend more time focusing on yourself.
Many clients that come into my office experiencing empty nest syndrome feel lost and have no clear idea what interests them because they have been so focused on their children for the past two decades. One thing that can help you gain clarity on what interests you is to create a dream list of all the things you have wanted to do but couldn’t because you were raising your kids. Perhaps you want to return to old hobbies, go back to school, or learn something new that you’ve always wanted to do. Look for meet-ups in your area (meetup.com) as a place to connect with others who share similar interests.
4. Stay Busy
Suddenly the house can seem eerily quiet when it isn’t filled with the sound of teenagers. If you don’t have things planned to keep your mind occupied, an empty and quiet house can seem overwhelming. Keep your social calendar full so that your life without kids at home is fun and enjoyable. You’ll find it easier to cope with the transition if you’re not sitting home, feeling lonely. You can have an identity again other than just your kid’s mom or dad.
Ideally, it is best to identify your interests and get involved before your child leaves home. Getting things on your calendar sooner than later can help to accelerate your emotional adjustment and will help to minimize the feelings of loss within yourself and in your home.
5. Be Gentle with Yourself
The first few months after your child moves out can be especially tough. Hands-on and dedicated parents may have a harder time adjusting to their child’s independence. Give yourself time to heal and adapt. Although you want to work toward your own goals and pursue your own hobbies, you don’t have to be ready to do that in the first weeks or months. Don’t skip out on your own self-care, either. Be sure to continue healthy habits like eating well, getting exercise, and making enough time for sleep.
6. Know When You Need More Help
It’s not unusual for some people to feel depressed or stressed out when their kids move out. If you’re feeling a sense of loss, you’re not alone. Let yourself grieve and feel sad. Many people experience other transitions, such as menopause or retirement, around the same time as their kids leave home, which can make this time even more challenging.
Transitions are always difficult. Changing the nature of one of your long held primary roles is clearly a major adjustment. With a little bit of patience and self-care, you can come through this phase feeling great about the possibilities for your future.
Doing things such as writing in a journal, unwinding with meditation or spending time talking to your spouse or a friend can help you adjust to this inevitable transition. But if you can’t seem to bounce back from the sadness, it’s okay to ask for extra help. Talking through your feelings with a therapist who can help you manage your emotions can be an effective tool to help ease this transition from empty nest to an even fuller life.
For more information on how to cope with empty nest syndrome or other life transitions, visit naomiberrycounseling.com or contact Naomi Berry at 480-427-3553 for a free 15-30-minute phone consultation