Empty Nest Syndrome: What Is It and How to Work Through It

It used to be that you’d open the door after a long day of work to a sink full of dishes, an overflowing basket of laundry, and requests from your children for rides, money, or to sign permission slips. You’d spend your evening fixing dinner, rushing from one child’s soccer game to another child’s art class. You’d get home, start to fold the clothes and wonder when you’d ever get to the point that you didn’t feel so exhausted all the time. 

You’ve finally hit that point, but your day-to-day routine has drastically changed, and you aren’t quite sure you like it. Now, your return from work is met with silence. You’re no longer chauffeuring children from one activity to another. There’s no one to beat to the remote for the control of nighttime TV. You can watch anything you’d like. 

It’s calm in your home since your children moved away to college or into their own homes— exactly what you thought you wanted just a few years ago. Though, now that it’s here, you’re struggling with empty nest syndrome. 

What Exactly is Empty Nest Syndrome?

According to Psychology Today, “Empty nest syndrome is not a clinical disorder or diagnosis. It is a transitional period in life that highlights loneliness and loss.”

You spent the past few decades of your life raising your children to be kind, respectful, and independent individuals. You’ve given them all the tools they need to be successful on their own. And now, you’re watching them blossom. 

It’s a joy like no other to see your children taken ownership of their own lives. You’re busting with pride. However, it doesn’t mean that you don’t miss seeing their faces and hearing their voices every day. It may have been a struggle at times to raise your children, but it’s sure darn lonely without them. 

Empty nest syndrome is the result of a bittersweet situation: one chapter of your life is closing, but another is beginning. It comes on with feelings of loneliness and loss, but by making healthy choices and continuing to strengthen the relationship with your children — even if it looks different in this stage — you may find that this new period of your life is one in which you will blossom as well. 

What Does Empty Nest Syndrome Look Like?

The feelings that go along with your children leaving home are personal and may be different for any individual. One parent, for example, may not feel the same way as their partner. For example, one person may feel like celebrating this new chapter of their lives, while the other parent can’t help but cry whenever they come home to an empty home. This doesn’t make one of you right and one of you wrong; you’re just simply processing the change differently.

Common symptoms of empty nest syndrome include the feeling of loss which may come on as a light sadness or a more serious depression. You may feel as if you’re extremely lonely, even if you live with a partner or have strong ties to the community. You may even feel as if you lost your purpose in life, or that you don’t know who you are anymore without your children around.

How to Move Past Empty Nest Syndrome

It can be tough to know how to move through this transitional period in your life. Because I work with so many people who are either building their dream home, downsizing into a smaller home, or repurposing their children’s room into a space for themselves, I’m very familiar with the struggles empty nesters experience. 

And, while I still have one child at home, I know the bittersweet feeling of watching my own children move out and on into their own lives all too well. My professional experience has taught me that there’s no one perfect way to “survive” empty nest syndrome. All parents process this phase differently. However, I do have some universal advice for moving into the next stage of your life. 

1. Talk About Your Feelings

As a society, we’ve been groomed to only talk about the highlight reels of our lives and downplay the rest of our feelings and experiences. Take some time to connect with friends, family, and your partner about how you feel during this transitional period. If you’re having a harder time than you expected, work with a counselor to process your feelings.

This doesn’t mean that someone’s advice for you or simply speaking up will turn everything around and you’ll suddenly feel better again. You’re allowed to grieve the “loss” of your children on your own terms. Some people will move through it quickly while others might wade through it a bit longer. But holding your feelings inside is never helpful. 

2. Reinvest In Yourself

For many parents, raising children and encouraging their activities leaves little to no time for their own hobbies or interests. Take this newly acquired time to learn new things and nurture old loves. Always wanted to speak a different language? Now is the time to take a class! Did you once paint landscapes? Pick up those paintbrushes once again.

You may think the only person struggling in this new chapter is you, but your children also need to adjust to their own new life. By seeing you make a healthy investment in yourself, you’re modeling good behaviors for them. Not only are you showing them how important it is to continuously learn, grow, and push yourself out of your comfort zone, but you’re showing your children that you’re going to survive and flourish after they leave. They may worry that they’re deserting you as they move away.

3. Make Some Changes In Your Home

It can be tough to walk by your child’s now-empty room (sans the dust bunnies and mirror smudges they left for you to clean, of course). Seeing it bare is just a sad reminder that they’re no longer there. But it doesn’t have to be. The square footage of that room is now yours to do whatever you like with it. You may decide to simply redecorate a bit and turn the room into a guest room for anyone who spends the night after visiting, or you might decide to claim the space for yourself.

But what would you use it for? You may be excited by this answer: anything your heart desires.

Are you a scrapbooker? Turn the four walls into a crafting room. Just buy a new Peloton bike? Looks like you’ve got the room for a personal gym in your home! 

If you’re struggling with how to makeover the newly acquired space in your home, I’ve got the perfect guide for you. Download Creating a You Room and learn how to turn an unused space into a haven in your home.

4. Build On Your Relationship With Your Children

Your kids may not be rushing through your halls in the mornings as you get ready for work anymore, but they are just a phone call or a quick message away. Don’t assume you’re bothering your children if you reach out. Just do it! If you’re really worried about being overbearing, have a frank conversation and ask your children what type of contact they’d like from you. So often parents assume their children are too busy for them, when in reality, no side has simply set a communication routine yet. 

It’s also helpful to start new traditions with your children. If they’re local, pick a night to have a family dinner every week. Don’t volunteer to be the host every time either, Maybe you can rotate houses weekly or every other month. See what common interests you share. If you and your daughter enjoy pedicures, pencil dates in your calendar to get them at the same time. 

Remember, it feels difficult to know how to connect to your child as they enter adulthood, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. If you don’t feel the opportunity for you to be present in their lives is presenting itself to you, speak up. And, don’t forget to let yourself blossom as they grow into independent adults, either.

P.S. If you do decide to take ownership over those empty rooms in your home, don’t forget to download my guide that will help you reclaim the space.

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