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Grown Then Flown: Managing the Emotions of Empty Nest Syndrome

October 14, 2020

From the moment your child is born, you know the day is coming — a day you will have worked hard toward and likely planned for together. You probably even helped them pack. Before you know it, it’s here — the day your last child moves away from home — and suddenly they’re gone. Now what?

Empty nest syndrome is a popular term sociologists coined nearly 50 years ago to describe the postparental period (or phase) where all grown children have moved from the family home, leaving parents to adjust to their absence and the many powerful emotions that may arise during this transition. 

Triggers to Watch For 

For some parents, the shift of focus from raising their children to letting them go can be accompanied by overwhelming feelings of sadness, loss or anxiety. If allowed to go unchecked, they can trigger medical conditions such as depression, panic attacks and even alcoholism. Some of the early signs of empty nest syndrome include:

  • A loss of purpose. This often hits stay-at-home parents the hardest, as their full time ‘job’ for the last 18+ years has been parenting. Once that relationship shifts in a new direction, they may struggle to find new interests or activities to fill the void.

  • Frustration over lack of control. With kids no longer living at home, parents who have held a tight rein on their child’s schedule can feel distress over not knowing what they are doing or how they are now managing their time. 

  • Heightened distress. Simply put, you can experience a marked increase in emotional reactions. Parents report feeling weepier, more short-tempered, overly nervous or unable to sleep.

  • Relationship stress. With children no longer at home, the primary role of a partner/spouse often shifts from co-parent back to significant partner. With that shift comes a recalibration of expectations and time.

  • Over monitoring. You may find yourself worrying, constantly looking at your child’s social media outlets for new updates or even tracking their phone.

Tips to Adjusting Better

If you find yourself identifying with any of the above, four simple tips can help you reduce anxiety and adjust to this new normal. 

  1. Reestablish your own (self) identity. This is a great time to redirect your focus toward those skills, jobs or talents you might not have been able to cultivate (or even left behind) while caring for your family.

  2. Reconnect with your partner and friends. Raising kids takes time and energy. Use these reclaimed hours and enthusiasm to reach out to those most important to you.

  3. Take on a new challenge. What’s on that wish list pinned to your bulletin board? What new sport or exercise routine do you want to take on? What new project are you passionate about? Now’s the time to explore those goals!

  4. Resist the urge to check in too often. As much as you are learning to let go, your children are learning to handle new challenges. Giving them space also gives them privacy, opportunities to make decisions and solve their own problems, and ultimately a greater sense of confidence. 

It’s a Big Step

Remember, both you and your kids are entering a new phase together. While there is a lot of uncertainty to it, there is excitement too. There are active steps you can take to ward off empty nest syndrome and make this transition easier for everyone. Plan ahead by starting hobbies or exploring new interests before they graduate, spending more quality time with them and creating a plan on how you’ll stay in touch. If you sense you need more assistance, share your concerns with close friends, support groups or medical advisors. 

Most of all, stay positive. Parenting never really ends and the best lesson you can teach your kids is how to handle change.

 

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