Your kids have been a huge part of your life for so long and then suddenly they’re gone….For some parents this can be a really challenging time. So if you find yourself struggling with empty nest syndrome, here are some tips on how to deal with it.
But firstly, here are some of the signs to look for…
What impact can empty nest syndrome have on you?
Although you want your children to grow up and lead independent lives, adjusting to them not being there can be hard.
Some of the emotions and concerns you may have include:
- Feelings of sadness and loss – It’s perfectly natural to feel some sadness and have a cry now and then. Or even to sit in your child’s bedroom in the hope of feeling closer to them. This is after all a big change to adjust to, which can leave you feeling empty and lonely.
- A lack of purpose – If you strongly identify with your role as a parent, letting go of your children can be a particularly traumatic event. The very thing that defined you and gave your life meaning has significantly changed. This can leave you feeling worthless and unsure of what the future may hold.
- Loss of control – You may also struggle with not having as much control or playing an active part in their lives anymore. Instead you have to take a back seat and allow them to make certain decisions.
- Concerns about safety – Worrying about your child’s ability to cope with being away from home and their safety, can also be very anxiety provoking.
- Your relationship –If as parents, you put your own relationship on the back burner, the cracks may begin to surface once the children have left. It may feel scary to think about being a couple again and you may worry whether you still have a connection.
- Depression – It’s natural to feel the loss when your children leave home. However this major life transition may also trigger depressive episodes, especially if you’re predisposed to them. Some of the signs to look out for are: crying excessively, feeling like a failure, thinking your life is no longer worthwhile, changes in sleep and eating patterns and no interest or pleasure in doing things.
Are there any other life events happening at the same time?
The grief of empty nest syndrome can often coincide with other major life changes happening at the same time.
For example, you may be going through the menopause, which can be a really physically and emotionally challenging time for some women. So coming to terms with the loss of your ability to have more children and your child leaving home, can be particularly devastating.
Other life events such as retirement, illness or trying to cope with increasingly elderly parents, can also make it feel doubly hard.
7 ways to deal with empty nest syndrome
So if you’re finding the void difficult to deal with, here are a few things to consider:
1. Give yourself time to adjust
Try not to expect too much of yourself, particularly in the first few weeks or months. Acknowledge your grief and allow yourself to feel upset and give yourself time to work through your loss.
2. Keep in touch with your children
Even when they’ve moved out, you can still have that sense of closeness by maintaining communication with them. But try not to pester them. They also need to adjust to their new life, so give them their space. Perhaps agree to schedule a weekly phone call and text in between.
3. Focus on the positive changes
By thinking about what you’re gaining, can help to ease your sense of loss. For example, just think of all the free time you’ll have now that you’re not doing all their washing and ironing! You may also notice that your utility bills are less, you’re buying less food and cooking less. And you don’t have to restrict your travel to the school holidays! This could also be your opportunity to do all the things that you wanted to do, but never had the time.
4. Explore new or existing interests
So to take advantage of all this extra time and energy, think about activities and interests that you could get involved with. You might be thinking, “I’ve spent years putting everyone else’s needs first, I wouldn’t know where to start!” Perhaps thinking about the things you were passionate about before you had kids, or things that you’ve longed to do but never had the time. Just start small and gradually build it up.
5. Refocus on your career
If you find that your career gives you a sense of purpose, you now have the opportunity to devote more time to it. You may even decide to embark on a completely new career, or perhaps do a course. And if you’re not quite ready to go back to work, try volunteering in potential workplaces, to see if it’s something you may want to persue.
6. Reinvest in your relationships
If you’re a lone parent, this could be a good time to extend your circle of friends. You could reconnect with old friends, meet new people or even re-enter the dating world.
And if you have a partner, this can be an opportunity to rekindle your relationship and find new mutual interests. Becoming a couple again may feel strange at first so you may need to work on your relationship to restore what has been neglected.
7. Seek support
If you’re having a difficult time dealing with empty nest syndrome, share your feelings with other mums, family, friends as well as your partner. However, if you find that you’re feeling worse rather than better over time, you may want to consider counselling.
Counselling can also be helpful if you’re relationship is struggling. It’s great when couples rediscover each other once the children leave home, but for some couples, this is not the case. You may have grown apart so much so, that you feel like strangers. Counselling could help you to work through your issues or to enable you to reach a decision about how to move forward.
So when your last child leaves home, you’re initial outlook may be gloomy. But it doesn’t have to stay that way. You’ve devoted a lot of time and energy into raising your kids and now it’s your time…time to go on an inward journey of self-discovery and make the most of your newfound freedom.
If you would like further support, please feel free to contact me.