How to adjust to being an empty nester

August 29, 2019 | by Edward-Elmhurst Health
Categories: Healthy Driven Moms

A house that was once full of activity and noise is suddenly empty. Those busy days of carpooling, helping with homework and getting meals on the table are over.

Your child has gone to college and now there’s a huge void left behind. While your college student adjusts to a new beginning, for you it may feel like an end.

This is called empty nest syndrome. It isn’t a clinical diagnosis, but it’s what parents experience when their children leave home for college (or when they leave the nest to get married).

The experience of letting go can be painful and emotionally challenging. It’s common to lose sight of who you are as an individual during the child-rearing years. You’ve spent the last 18 or so years in the role of caretaker and so much of your identity has been wrapped up in your child.

Now they’ve grown into a young adult. You want your child to be independent and move forward, but their departure can fill you with grief.

It’s normal to feel sad, lonely and even anxious about their well-being away from home. Some parents feel a loss of purpose in life. Other parents feel regret or guilt over not spending enough time with their child when they were younger.

It can be particularly difficult for women, stay-at-home parents, single parents and parents of an only child — anyone who strongly identifies with their role as a parent. Empty nest syndrome can make you more vulnerable to depression and anxiety, marital conflicts and even alcoholism.

How do you fill the void left behind when your child goes away to college? Here are some ways to adjust to an empty nest:

  • Get back in touch with yourself. Ask yourself what brings you joy or meaning? Who do you enjoy being with? Now’s the time to figure out your likes and dislikes as an individual.
  • Reframe it. Try to look at this transition as a new beginning, not a loss or ending. Reframe it as an opportunity to start a new life and do all the things you couldn’t do before.
  • Structure your days. Schedule your days so you have a sense of purpose. Start by setting small, manageable goals that take the place of your former routine.
  • Keep in touch with your child. Today it’s easier than ever to maintain regular contact through phone calls, text, email, video chat and social networking.
  • Reconnect with your partner. This can be a good time to get to know each other again and improve the quality of your relationship. What interests you as a couple?
  • Avoid making any big life changes. Wait until you adjust to this experience before you move onto something else big, like selling your house.
  • Practice self-care. Maintain a healthy lifestyle by eating well, getting good sleep and exercising regularly. Do something nice for yourself once in a while, like get a massage.
  • Find a new hobby. Find something you enjoy doing. Take an art class or a cooking class. Sign up for yoga or a fitness class. Plan a vacation to a place you’ve never been. Adopt a pet.
  • Look for a new opportunity. Volunteer somewhere or look for a new challenge at work to stay busy and feel purposeful again. Return to school for a new degree.
  • Lean on others. It’s likely that your friends are going through a similar experience. Sharing your feelings with others can help you feel better.

It’s normal and healthy to miss your child and feel sad when they leave the nest. Just remember, your job as a parent is to help them grow and become independent. This is a good thing. And they will still need you, just in different ways than before.

If you experience overwhelming feelings of sadness, loneliness or anxiety that interfere with your everyday life, seek help.

If you’re struggling and need support, help is available. Get support from Linden Oaks Behavioral Health.

Learn more from Healthy Driven Chicago:

Getting help for depression

Related blog:

How to deal with a major life change

Keeping tabs on your college student's mental health

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