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Do You Have Empty Nest Syndrome?
When the last child moves away from home, many parents experience what is called “empty nest syndrome.” Although not a clinical diagnosis, the phenomenon is frequently characterized by a deep sense of loss that in some cases can lead to depression, substance abuse and/or marital conflicts. Mothers, in particular, may experience a type of identity crisis similar to what happens when people retire; once the everyday experiences that defined their lifestyle for decades go away, they begin to wonder who they are now that they no longer have those responsibilities.
Parents cope with this type of loss in many ways. Some celebrate the chance to reclaim their household, travel without tethers or explore a whole new level of intimacy in their marriage. However, others may struggle with the newfound quiet, loss of companionship and loss of those satisfying feelings often associated with taking care of others.
To help address feelings of loss resulting from empty nest syndrome, the Mayo Clinic offers the following tips:1
- Instead of dwelling on what you are missing, you can focus on what your child is experiencing — including his or her feelings toward facing new challenges. Try to reset your attention to encouraging and supporting your adult child’s new endeavors.
- Keep in touch in a way that is best received by your child. Discover which types of communication he or she responds to most frequently or enthusiastically, such as phone calls, emails, texts or video chats. By embracing your child’s communication preferences, you will be able to stay in touch better and lessen the possibility of becoming a burden on his or her free time.
- If you do experience feelings of despondency or loneliness, reach out to your own support network. Parents of your child’s friends are likely to be experiencing many of the same feelings, so coordinate visits with people in the same boat. Talk about your feelings with loved ones, so they understand you need more support during this time, and contact your doctor if you have prolonged feelings of depression.
- Look for the silver lining. The separation between parent and child is both healthy and inevitable, and it presents the opportunity for you to refocus your attention back to yourself and other personal relationships. Embrace the time you have, and consider personal interests you’d like to pursue with your newfound freedom.
Going through the experience of the last child leaving home is a major life change. Recognize that it is both significant and universal among parents — something that is hard felt but also surmountable. It’s up to you to replace parental responsibilities with new personal and/or professional challenges. Remember, this is important not just for your mental health but also so that your child can go forth into the world and work on his or her success without having to worry about how you are handling the absence.
1 Mayo Clinic. March 17, 2015. “Empty nest syndrome: Tips for coping.” http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/empty-nest-syndrome/art-20047165?pg=1. Accessed June 13, 2017.