Surviving Empty Nest Syndrome
As a child prepares to move out of their childhood home or go to college, parents may be inundated with a number of feelings, chief among them stress, elation, and, perhaps, excitement, along with grief, known as empty nest syndrome.
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Surviving Empty Nest Syndrome
As a child prepares to move out of their childhood home or go to college, parents may be inundated with a number of feelings, chief among them stress on how to help a student stand out in the college admissions process, the best way to pay for education and transitioning the child to the college lifestyle; elation at the success the child has experienced and their journey into adulthood, whatever that may hold; and, perhaps, excitement at having a freer schedule with more time to travel.
However, those are not the only feelings parents may experience. In a recent survey, 98% of parents said they had felt “extreme grief” after their child left to go to college for the first time.1 This feeling of loss or grief is often referred to as empty nest syndrome.
Empty nest syndrome is not a clinical diagnosis found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, but it is, nonetheless, a real and profound emotional turmoil experienced by parents when children leave the household.
Its symptoms may include a feeling of loneliness, emotional distress, a loss of purpose, fear of losing control, and an undercurrent of worry and anxiety. In more pronounced cases, it may result in marital stress or depression. For most parents, these feelings may last only days or weeks, but for some it can last many months, or even years.
10 Coping Strategies
There are a number of ways parents can manage the natural feelings of loss as their children move on to a fully independent adult stage.
- Make social connections. It’s time to establish new friends and reconnect with old ones to build a new life not centered on raising children.
- Set goals for the future. Finding new goals toward which you can direct your energies and attention will help overcome the void created by departing children.
- Take up a new hobby or career. A new hobby or career can provide a fresh source of personal enrichment or satisfaction.
- Reconnect with your spouse. Child rearing often comes at the sacrifice of enjoying a deep and intimate relationship between the spouses. Now is an ideal time to reintroduce the romance and adventure that may have receded to the background during the family-raising years.
- Practice self-care. Engage in activities that improve mental health, whether it’s exercise, going back to school or meditation.
- Focus on the positives. Take time to reflect with pride and joy in your child’s success, and the role you played in it. Remind yourself of the greater freedom and lower stress that comes with a child’s independence.
- Recognize that parenting is still required. Your child will always need you, so stay involved—just not too involved!
- Keep in touch with your children. Text messages and weekly phone calls will help meet your desire to be connected with your child.
- Plan a trip. Taking that dream trip will lift your spirit, occupy your mind and be a reminder of all the benefits of an empty nest.
- Seek professional help. If your feelings of loss persist, don’t hesitate to seek professional help.
Just as parents strive to raise independent men and women ready for the chapter, so should they recognize that they have a next chapter to also look forward to. Remember, an empty nest doesn’t mean an empty life.
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