As a parent, one of your ultimate goals is to see your children reach milestones of independence. Watching your children graduate high school or college, pursue certifications or specialties, get married, launch a career and have their own families is one of the supreme joys of parenthood.
These achievements are moments of pride, but there are often feelings of sadness beneath the surface. If you feel like your child is moving on and moving away and you’re struggling to cope, you may be dealing with empty nest syndrome.
What is empty nest syndrome?
Empty nest syndrome refers to the feelings of sadness, grief and loneliness that parents feel when their adult children move out of the home. Empty nest syndrome can occur whether your oldest child is leaving the home and siblings remain, or when your last child moves out.
Empty nest syndrome tends to affect adults between the ages of 40 and 60 after their children have graduated high school and leave home for college, trade school, travel or marriage. After decades of caregiving, this abrupt transition can leave parents unprepared for the changes this new stage brings.
Transitioning to a home with no kids can bring challenges and new enjoyment for both adult children and their parents. Both will experience a newfound sense of independence, and each generation is tasked with making that independence meaningful.
What are the stages of empty nest syndrome?
The stages of empty nest syndrome will differ depending on the source you’re looking at. While the stages of empty nest syndrome may vary, there are some common feelings you’ll experience at some point along the way.
- A loss of purpose: mothers and fathers dedicate countless time to raising their kids, from preparing meals, to soothing emotional difficulties and making the rounds to extracurricular events. While children gradually need less assistance from their parents, a child moving out marks a sharp end to daily interaction.
- Grief: experiencing deep sorrow after children move away is normal, although it may be difficult to express to those around you. Feeling the anger, sadness and eventual healing that comes with grief are all parts of the journey.
- Frustration: adult children, just like young children, are capable of stirring up strong emotions. The decisions and lifestyle changes your child makes after leaving home may leave you feeling confused, hopeless or frustrated.
- Restlessness: in response to increased independence and free time, many empty-nesters begin to feel restless, not knowing where to aim their emotional and physical energy. It’s normal to take up new hobbies at this time, return to work or engage in volunteer opportunities.
- Moodiness: strong mood shifts are a sign that you’re facing distress upon adult children leaving the home. If you find yourself happy one moment when you have something to occupy your time, and then a reminder of your child sends you into a meltdown, the empty-nest syndrome is taking its toll on your mental well-being.
- Stress: the event of children leaving the home often leaves couples unsure of themselves. The period of readjustment from a home full of kids back to a couple can cause marital difficulties. Use this as an opportunity to get to know each other again and rekindle the love that was directed first towards your children for the last 20 years.
- Relief: empty nest syndrome isn’t just a rush of negative emotions. Rather than sadness (or more often, coupled alongside the sadness) are feelings of relief and satisfaction. It’s in order to feel proud of the children you’ve raised and embrace their achievements and personalities with joy.
- Rest: the hustle and bustle of daily family life can be wearing on even the strongest and most energetic parents. After sending your progeny out into the world you may feel peace and rest for the first time in a long while.
Having your children leave home permanently is a bittersweet moment. It marks a milestone in independence as well as a lessened role for you as a parent. This shift is hard, but a beautiful and necessary step in the lifecycle of your family.
How to deal with empty nest syndrome
Figuring out how to deal with empty nest syndrome is a growing process, just like learning how to live independently requires a learning curve for your own children. Here are some tips to help you manage the transition.
- Learn how to relate to your adult children: Your contact won’t be as frequent, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be as meaningful. Now, instead of talking about what’s for dinner and what chores need to be done, you can focus on your child’s perspective on the world and goals for the future.
- Find a time-consuming hobby you actually enjoy: reading, biking, traveling, crafting, bird-watching, volunteering and similar activities can give you a fresh outlook on life and can occupy hours you once spent raising kids. Find something engaging and life-giving that doesn’t offer too many obstacles so you can partake regularly.
- Give back: it’s likely that during your parenting years you encountered struggles and causes you had little energy or time to support. Look back and brainstorm ways you can devote yourself to something you’re grateful for or passionate about.
- Seek counseling: managing empty nest syndrome is a major life transition that brings it’s own challenges. If you feel stuck in the sadness that comes from your adult children moving on, it’s time to seek out mental health counseling.
The Light Program can help you handle empty nest syndrome and rebuild a satisfying and happy life. Call today to get the help you deserve from a compassionate professional.