Becoming Empty Nesters
Empty nest syndrome occurs when children grow up and leave home, and parents feel depressed, sad or grieved. Not everyone experiences empty nest syndrome, but women tend to suffer from it more than men. Women are typically their children’s primary caregivers and women may also be experiencing other life transitions. This can include menopause or caring for elderly parents. But there are also positive aspects of becoming an empty nester. Think about the following strategies for making it a good experience.
Your child will eventually leave home to start their adult life. So even if the timetable isn’t exactly what you expect, you still know it’s coming. And the earlier you start fostering independence in your child, the easier this transition tends to be. In fact, parents who teach their children to be less dependent often feel pride and joy at their children’s flight from the nest.
Knowing this time is coming means you should spend some time thinking about things you would like to do with your new freedom. Consider accepting new roles, taking on new projects in your personal or professional life, or volunteering. This time can allow you to pursue a career change that you’ve dreamed about or get a job if you’ve been at home. Make a list of places you’d like to visit, and then plan some travel. Planning helps you see a positive future.
Keep in Touch
Regular contact with a child who has left the home is an important part of maintaining your relationship. Your parental role is changing, but your child is still maturing as an adult and still needs your advice. Keeping in touch lets your child know that you’re there for support and strengthens your family bond. And today’s communication technology makes it easy to connect.
It’s important to understand the difference between a healthy amount of contact and contact that interferes with your child’s independence. The same technology that can strengthen your relationship can also get in the way. Every relationship is different, so you need to talk about it openly with your child to decide on the right amount of phone calls and texts. But guard against using contact to micromanage your child’s life. You can also have the opposite problem—a child who is leaning on you too much. Listen and give support without trying to fix every problem or issue.
Parenting takes time and energy, often at the expense of other relationships and interests. A definite upside to the empty nest is the fact that it allows you freedom to reconnect with the people in your life. In fact, research shows that this time can give parents “a new lease on life” and lead to improved relationships. You may even find that your relationship with your child improves without the stress of day-to-day life together.
Use this time to rekindle friendships, hobbies, and other interests. And if you’re married, reconnect with your spouse. It may feel strange to be completely alone with your spouse and to wonder about your relationship. These feelings are normal. Talk to your spouse and plan things you’d like to do together. Go on dates, plan dinners at home, explore travel, or learn a new activity together.
Exercise is great stress reliever. If exercise is already part of your routine, keep it up. If not, consider starting an exercise program. It will provide a new experience in addition to helping you keep stress under control.
Exercise can also offer new opportunities for you. Learning a new sport can provide a challenge and occupy your newfound free time. Exercise can be an avenue for social interactions as well. Consider joining an intramural or pick-up league for team sports. Or if you’re into individual sports, think about joining a running, biking or hiking club.
Seeing the glass half full can help you have better physical and mental health. This may be more of a challenge for you if it goes against your usual nature. But there are strategies to improve your optimism. Focus on the good things that are happening in your life. And choose to put your energy toward a positive outcome and new experiences. Staying active and keeping healthy habits will also help promote a better outlook.
Making the daily choice to be optimistic will do more than help you. It’s an opportunity to model healthy behavior for your child. Show your child that life transitions aren’t something to fear. In fact, transitions let us celebrate new beginnings. And the empty nest is a new beginning for you and your child, not an ending.
Give Yourself Time
Give yourself time if you find yourself suffering from the empty nest syndrome. The empty nest syndrome is a form of grief. And grief is a normal response to loss or separation that needs to run its course. The amount of time it takes to work through grief is different for each person. So give yourself time to feel your feelings.
If your feelings of grief turn into depression, seek help from a qualified mental health provider. Signs of depression include losing interest in things you used to enjoy, constant fatigue, sleeping problems, appetite loss, trouble concentrating, feeling hopeless, and thoughts of suicide or hurting yourself.
This is the time to use your support system. Lean on friends and family and talk to them about your new life. Use your new freedom to schedule daytime get-togethers that your old life couldn’t always accommodate. Consider making new additions to your support system too. Some communities or churches have empty nester social groups filled with people who are in the same stage of life.
These are also the people in your life who can help you celebrate your new beginning. Share your successes with them as you embark on this phase of your life that is full of opportunity.