It is a common phenomenon that many older individuals have struggled with without a name to put to it. It can be triggered in both men and women, and it comes, usually without warning, at the departure of your children—the empty nest syndrome. This wave of feelings is incredibly common, though many couples and parents are unaware that it is even a possibility for them. Becoming educated about empty nest syndrome and how it can affect you, your spouse and your children is the best way to cope with the newness of having an empty home.
What Is Empty Nest Syndrome?
Many individuals may be uncertain about what empty nest syndrome is or who it affects. According to Mayo Clinic, empty nest syndrome is “a phenomenon in which parents experience feelings of sadness and loss when the last child leaves home.” It is important to realize that empty nest syndrome is not a clinically diagnosed disorder, but rather just an occurring common phenomenon.
What Is the Impact?
Although empty nest syndrome occurs most frequently in women, men are also affected from time to time, feeling the absence sometimes more intensely than women. Many issues can arise both individually and in a marriage if help is not found.
- Sometimes empty nest syndrome divorce happens. When there are no longer children in the picture, many couples realize that they have grown apart while their children have been in the house and have to re-learn how to live with one another, or regain their spark. If this continues to be an issue, sometimes it leads to a divorce.
- Other times, issues like empty nest syndrome depression may come up. Empty nest syndrome itself is not incredibly dangerous, but if the feelings intensify or prolong, then it may lead to something more serious such as depression or anxiety. It is important to learn how to deal with and control your feelings during this time in order to make sure that nothing further escalates.
What Causes Empty Nest Syndrome?
Empty nest syndrome gets its name from the fact that your children have left, either due to graduation, marriage or simply moving out, and you no longer have any babies in “the nest”. This empty nest, so to speak, creates a disunity that is not congruent with your daily life and leaves you feeling lonely until you are able to adjust to not having your children in your life every day.
- Sometimes, men or women in this stage of life may be dealing with many other life-changing issues as well. Mothers may be going through menopause, or fathers may have to be taking care of their own parents. Anything like this can naturally make the letting-go process a lot more difficult for parents.
- Oftentimes, the strength of your parent-child relationship may influence how you react to your children leaving. Contrary to popular belief, parents with the closest relationship with their children may be able to cope with the release a lot better. For parents who had a rocky relationship with their kids, their leaving may bring a lot of other dependence issues to the light.
- Essentially, there is no real cause, and any parent is subject to experiencing the empty nest syndrome.
What Are the Symptoms?
There are many symptoms to keep an eye out for in order to help you understand your emotions and the situation.
- Feeling sad or alone during the time after your child’s departure, or even a sadness or emptiness beforehand can be a sign of impending or present empty nest syndrome.
- It is also common to spend time in the child’s old bedroom or living space or reminiscing with old photos and things for extended periods.
- It is important for you to keep a close eye on your feelings and emotions during this time.
- If you feel that you have lost the meaning for your life or your usefulness, this could be a sign of extreme symptoms and lead to depression.
- Likewise, if you no longer want to do daily activities, see your friends, or you find yourself crying an excessive amount, then consider seeking professional help.
- There is no clinical cure for empty nest syndrome as it is not a diagnosed disorder, but there are many ways to help alleviate the feelings and make the transition easier.
How to Deal with It
There are many tips on how to deal with empty nest syndrome and different ways to make the process a lot easier for both you and your spouse. One thing that is important to remember is that you being affected by empty nest syndrome does not always solely affect you. Oftentimes, your spouse and your children are also impacted, so it is important to find ways to cope and work on making things easier to deal with.
1. Keep Yourself Busy
Keeping busy is one way that many parents try to adapt in case of their children’s absence.
- One way to keep busy is to take on new opportunities at work and keep yourself always doing something. This not only helps pass time but helps you make money as well.
- Another thing to consider is to invest in a new hobby of some kind. This would help you spend time out of the house and not dwell on the emptiness.
- Find new crafts or recipes to try. Take this time to do new things and explore things you have never explored before.
- Oftentimes, keeping yourself busy is a great distraction from the fact that your children aren’t there every waking hour.
2. Don’t Compare Situations
One of the biggest mistakes that parents make is comparing their children to themselves or to other couple’s children. When going through this stage, it is important to realize that your child is in a transition as well and that comparing your situations may just hurt the child.
- Try not to compare the moving-out to how it happened when you or your spouse did it or how any of your friends did it in an effort to make your child stick around longer.
- This shows signs of distress and denial of your child’s life process. This may only make them rebel.
- Instead, try to encourage your child in their endeavors and make sure they know you’re proud of them and excited for their life.
- Try to do things to prepare them for their life away from you. If they do not know how to do basic cooking, laundry or cleaning, take this time to teach them. This not only makes sure they can live on their own, but it helps put your mind at ease as well.
- Overall, try not to put your stress onto your kids. They are already going to be having a hard enough time transitioning away from you.
- Realize that this is a common way of life and necessary for every child to experience.
3. Stay in Touch
One of the best ways you can help yourself cope is by learning unique ways to stay in touch. Communication is one of the best medicines for separation.
- Try to schedule a weekly call time that you can sit down with them and hear about their week. Skype is another option that you may try to get in if it is available.
- It is important to know not to be obsessive or smother them, but to be sure and let them know you’re thinking about them and want to talk. Once a week is a safe number unless they initiate other call times in between (which is likely for a while).
- Use email and texting to communicate throughout the week with things you want to share or just to check in occasionally.
- Do fun things like send them packages, letters or postcards just to let them know you’re thinking of them. This can help break the monotony of life and it is also incredibly fun to receive snail mail or packages.
4. Focus on the Positives
There are many benefits to your children leaving the house. Try to focus in on the positives to help get over the negative stress of missing them.
- Many couples use this time to reconnect after years of sharing each other with children. Use this time to get to know your spouse on a new level and reignite the spark that got you two together.
- Do fun things together and travel. It’s financially a lot easier to do this without children.
- Focus on what you can do with the additional space and money. Turn it into something useful and fun.
5. Get a Support System
Overall, do not be afraid to get support. Team up with your spouse and get counseling together so you can both work through the toughest parts. Talk with your other married friends who have already experienced the empty nest syndrome and get their advice.
It might be fun to get together a weekly or monthly support group meeting with other couples who are experiencing the same things. This can be a great way to pass time and also connect with people in similar situations.
As you can see, empty nest syndrome can be a difficult thing to experience, but it’s not impossible to get through. There are many ways that can help you cope and make your process go so much easier for you. If you are experiencing the empty nest syndrome now, take these tips into consideration, and be sure to talk with your doctor or counselor about your feelings.