Becoming an Empty Nester: an Emotional Roller Coaster

Did you just move your child off to college, or maybe they didn’t choose the college path just yet, but instead decided to travel the world, find a job, relocate, and leave you as an empty nester? This is a time we should feel proud and accomplished because that’s what we raised them to do. However, it comes with a lot of mixed feelings.

Empty Nest Syndrome is a psychological condition that brings on feelings of loneliness, anxiety, and grief. Additionally, some parents may turn to substances or other negative behaviors to cope with these feelings of sadness. According to Mindful Health Solutions, 25% of parents will experience Empty Nest Syndrome.

baby crawling with an empty nest in the corner
Signs You May Be Experiencing Empty Nest Syndrome

Loss of meaning in life. As parents, we are used to our child(ren) being our main focus, cooking dinner for them, helping them with homework, driving them to activities, being there when they argued with their best friend. Now the house seems empty and you are not sure how to fill your time meaningfully. Yvonne De Seta, Program Supervisor of Family Preservation Service with Acenda, describes it as being “bittersweet - exciting for them to start new beginnings - new jobs, new places to live, but also sad as a parent knowing that you aren't needed in the same capacity anymore.”

Loss of authority. With your child out of the home. you no longer have the control over their life like you had when they were at home. You can’t make sure they are getting to class or doing their assignments and will most likely know less about their social life.

Ups and downs with your emotions. One minute you are feeling proud of them, the next minute you can’t stop crying. As an empty nester, you can be more sensitive and experience feelings of sadness because you miss them, anxiety because you’re worried, and scared that they are making the right decisions. According to Mari Considine, Chief Development & Marketing Officer at Acenda Integrated Health, “it was very challenging when my daughter first left for college because we had such a close relationship and spent a lot of time together. I felt so disconnected and that was the hardest part. However, every time I felt sad I would remind myself that this was the goal. For the past 18 years, we had done everything we we could to prepare her for this moment and this independence.”

Increased stress in your marriage. In the start of a relationship, it is just you and your partner, learning about each other and experiencing life. Then you have children, and everything revolves around them. When all your children leave the house, it is just back to you and your partner, and you have to relearn how to shift the focus back to your relationship, finding things that you both enjoy and ways to fill that empty space.

The need to downsize. If you’re an empty nester, you may be considering downsizing your home, which can be added stress. It can be difficult moving out of a home where you’ve built so many memories, but it may be the perfect time to move into a smaller, more manageable home. Consider these steps if you are considering downsizing.

What You Can Do to Ease the Feelings of Empty Nest Syndrome

You are not alone if you are experiencing symptoms of being an empty nester. According to Mari, she found it important to “re-establish relationships with old friends. I now had time for happy hour again!"

Here are some tips for getting through this trying time:

Find a new hobby. If there was something you always wanted to try, now is the time to do it! You have extra time to yourself and it is important to fill that time with something you enjoy and that will fill those time gaps in your day to day life. Here are 33 things to do when your kids aren't home.

Reconnect with your partner. Go out on more date nights and enjoy the freedom of having your own schedule. Set future goals of a vacation that you have always wanted to go on, that way you will have something to look forward to. Reports have shown that 63% of couples actually feel their relationship is stronger once their children have left the house.

Take care of yourself. Self care is important during these times. This is an opportunity to focus on your health, both mentally and physically. Make time to visit a spa or engage in yoga and exercise. Plan to eat healthy and cooking meals you enjoy without worrying about making foods your child will like.

Stay in contact with your children.  Cell phones and technology make it easier to connect with your child than it was in years past. Schedule a weekly facetime call to check in and hear about all the exciting new things your child is doing and support them with their challenges.

For more ways to enjoy your empty nest, check out this article by the Mayo Clinic.

If these feelings of loneliness, depression, and anxiety become too overwhelming and persist over a long period of time, there is no shame in reaching out for extra help to maintain your wellness—our caring clinicians are available to help.

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