Ten Tips to Deal With Empty Nest Syndrome
Written by Professional Counseling Expert Kristin Cavins
After caring and tending to your kids from birth through adulthood, it’s only natural to have feelings of loss and grief when they leave the family home. Kids provide so much satisfaction, the ability to give love unconditionally, and for many parents a true sense of purpose in life.
So when your beloved child heads off to college for the first time, gets married, or flies out of the nest, mixed emotions are naturally experienced. Here are ten tips for managing this milestone as parents and coming out of this transition on top!
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- Preparation is always key when facing a major change. Before your child’s actual departure, have some plans in mind or activities or things you will do, that maybe you didn’t have the time for while raising kids. It’s important to have something to look forward to, and this way you will have that even before your child leaves.
- Give yourself time. While it’s important to have some fun things planned, it’s also important to give yourself time to grieve the loss and feel any sadness you experience. This is normal and if you can acknowledge your feelings and feel them, they will naturally ease up in time. No need to immediately put away all of the kid’s stuff in their old bedrooms. Allow yourself the chance to feel their presence until you are ready to move on.
- Support Network. Trust me, you will not be the only parent feeling this sadness as plenty of your friends will be also going through the same experience. Be open to expressing how you feel to other parents or friends as a healthy outlet. There is no need to isolate yourself and it’s always helpful to have support from those in similar situations.
- Do not burden your kids. Whatever you do, don’t burden your kids with how you are feeling. Just as you have feelings about this transition, they also are experiencing a major milestone with leaving home for the first time. To place your feelings of sadness onto them will only make them feel bad and more homesick, and is not appropriate. Talk to your spouse, trusted friends, or even a counselor if needed.
- Rediscover yourself. This time is all about letting go of what was and embracing what is now. Now you have time to discover a new passion, try out new classes or interests, travel, get in great shape, volunteer, whatever it is that makes you feel inspired. Make a list of what inspires you and start engaging in these activities.
- Realize that you are still a parent. Reframe the idea of “empty nest” into simply extending that nest to a much bigger area. Your kids will still need you (in different ways) and even though they are not under the same roof, you are still Mom or Dad, and always will be. Your importance is not only during the first 18 years.
- Reconnect with your spouse. Often times, married couples have devoted so much time to raising kids that they find themselves disconnected from each other, once the kids have left. Find a balance of doing things together and also giving each other space. Divorce is common at this stage for many couples if they are truly disconnected, so do take time to rekindle the relationship and redefine what your marriage will be like today. Seek out marriage counseling if needed.
- Maintain a strong connection with your kids. This seems obvious, yet sometimes parents feel that once the kids have grown up and are on their own, they are no longer needed. However, it’s important that your kids continue to feel supported and connected to you. Set up email accounts and send photos, or make plans to connect once a week by phone, plan a weekend visit to college, send their favorite treats in a care-package, etc. Maintain a balance of connection while allowing them their newfound freedom and independence.
- Reward Yourself. Raising a child is an honor and truly one of the most challenging, selfless and rewarding “jobs” anyone can do. Acknowledge the great job you have done raising your kid(s). Their budding independence indicates that you have helped them to reach a crucial stage of development, necessary for their success in the world. This is something to celebrate.
- Seek Professional Counseling. If you do find that your feelings of grief or sadness are becoming worse, you may be experiencing depression; loss of interest in usual activities, sleeping more or less than usual, change in appetite, negative thoughts, isolation, lack of motivation etc. Do not hesitate to seek out professional counseling to work through your feelings and get the help that you need.
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