When your children leave the house to go off on their own, you will be considered an “empty nester.” It can be an exciting time of life, watching your children step out into the world and create their life for themselves. It can also be a huge child rearing milestone as you launch your children into adulthood. At the same time, there can be a heaviness that accompanies the empty nest. Many parents feel some loneliness, a loss of purpose, anxiety/worry, and even sadness. These feelings that parents face are part of empty nest syndrome.
For approximately 18 years (possibly more if you have multiple children), you have been in the trenches of parenthood. You have been raising a child, taking care of them, and housing them for a long time. Being a parent becomes a significant part of your identity. Even though you are still their parent after they leave the house, your role changes significantly. You become less hands-on as you step back and allow them to step further into independence. That change, while expected, can still feel sudden and jarring. It can take some time to adjust as your purpose in your kid’s life changes. As that purpose changes, it can bring sadness and anxiety as you take more of a backseat as a parent. Your worry for them can be strong and you will likely miss them, bringing some sadness. The house you come home to might suddenly feel bigger and quieter without them there. It is a huge change and transition for both parents and children. Some couples find their marriage is lacking when they have an empty nest. With the distraction of children gone, some couples end up divorcing because they feel they do not know their partner anymore. Having an empty nest can be a massive adjustment for parents.
There are ways to help yourself manage empty nest syndrome:
If married, invest in your relationship before the kids leave.
It is important to invest in your marriage before the kids leave the nest. It is extremely difficult when schedules are busy, but it is critical to frequently take the time to care for your marriage. When the kids leave, there will still be an adjustment, but caring for your marriage can help prevent your parenting role from completely distracting you from your relationship with your spouse.
Communicate with your kids.
Technology makes it possible to stay in touch with your kids. It is important to have some boundaries and not to hover. Each person is different, so talk to your child about ways to stay in touch. Whether it be a phone call once a week or sending texts every couple of days, finding ways to communicate with your kids can help.
Find and enjoy your own hobbies.
As a parent, you have had to put many things aside for your children. Having an empty nest provides you with an opportunity to focus on some things that are important to you. Figure out what you enjoy and have some fun trying out new hobbies.
Continue to invest in your marriage.
It has not been just you and your spouse in a long time. Continue to spend time focusing on your marriage and redefining your relationship now that the kids are out of the house. Your spouse can be a helpful support as you both transition to having an empty nest.
Michelle Overman is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist working as a counselor for students, faculty, and staff at Abilene Christian University in Abilene, Texas. She works with athletes, bridging the gap between athletics and mental health at ACU. She is becoming a Certified Mental Performance Consultant in sports psychology. Michelle ran her own private practice in Austin, Texas where she worked with a diverse population, including couples and families. Michelle earned a Master’s in Marriage & Family Therapy and has been working in the field for 6 years.