If you are a parent who is struggling with the realization that your child is heading off to college… you’re not alone. Parents all over the country are being forced to confront the idea that their child is all grown up. After years of taking kids to school, helping with homework, and driving them to sports, having a child leave the “nest” is a very big transition.
What is Empty Nest Syndrome?
According to the Mayo Clinic, Empty Nest Syndrome is not a clinical diagnosis, but is a frequent phenomenon experienced by parents when their last child leaves the house. Common emotions are sadness, emptiness, and loss. The experience of letting children go is bittersweet. On the one hand you are proud of the child you raised and celebrate that they have become independent adults, but on the other hand you miss being part of their day to day lives. Although women are more likely to experience Empty Nest Syndrome, men can also experience feelings of sadness and loss when their children leave the home.
Take time to adjust
Having a child leave home, especially when it’s your last one is an abrupt transition. Give yourself adequate time to be sad. Flip through baby photos, watch old family videos, cry, and when that grieving is over, be sure to also give yourself permission to move forward with your life.
Discover “me” time
Being a parent means that you make many sacrifices for your children. Now that your kids are out of the house you have an opportunity to explore other roles and interests that you weren’t able to pursue previously. Now is the perfect time to take up an old or new hobby. Perhaps you would like to further advance your education, change the trajectory of your career, retire, or enroll in a fun class like ceramics or cooking to gain new skills.
Get to know your spouse again
For at least the last 18 or so years your lives revolved around your children. Now that there are no kids in the home, you can figure out what you and your spouse want to do without having to take the kids into consideration. Think about booking a tropical vacation, getting a couple’s massage, or taking up a couple’s activity like salsa dancing or tennis. Or maybe you just want to curl up on the couch and watch a movie, and simply enjoy your time together.
Keep in touch
Although your child has moved out you can still keep in contact with texts, emails, phone calls, or even video chats. Expect that your child will call you with issues or problems when they arise, but try your best to stay out of “problem solving mode” and learn to get comfortable in “listening mode.” You’ve raised an intelligent and independent young adult, and it’s important to help your kids feel capable and empowered when you are no longer around. Encourage them to find solutions to their problems instead of relying on you to fix it. Part of growing up means that kids need to learn how to do things on their own and take charge of their lives. Swooping in and handling their problems for them deprives them of an important opportunity to both learn and grow.
If you’re struggling
Empty nest syndrome is difficult in the beginning, but should ease over time. If you are experiencing prolonged sadness despite relying on strong supports, are becoming more isolated, feel like your life has lost meaning, are having trouble sleeping and/or eating, make an appointment with your doctor as you may be suffering from depression. Although there is no data that shows a child leaving the home increases risk for depression, the stress of a child leaving the home may uncover depressive symptoms in someone who is already prone to the diagnosis.
Colleges often host family events geared toward freshman. These programs help both the student and family adjust to the change. Outside of campus events there are parent groups available to join where you can connect to other parents who are experiencing the same types of feelings you are. Speaking to a therapist can also be very helpful so you can explore your fears and anxieties about your child no longer living at home.