We spend infinite time and energy raising our children, but who knew watching them move out would be the hardest part? Many parents overlook this inevitable emotional shock, leaving them vulnerable to trauma and grief when that day comes. This condition has been deemed empty next syndrome, and it is vital that parents take necessary steps in preparing for and treating its symptoms.
Empty nest syndrome refers to the grief that many parents feel when their children move out of home. This condition is typically more common in women – often the primary caregivers who have dedicated 20 years of their lives to child rearing. This sudden shift in lifestyle may feel like their most important job in life has ended. Unfortunately, it often goes unrecognized and untreated because an adult child moving out of home is seen as a normal, healthy event. Additionally, upset parents may be hard pressed to find sources of support or sympathy. And with the compounding effects of retirement and menopause, this can be a recipe for prolonged hardship.
Thankfully, most parents adapt in time. Psychologists suggest that it takes between 18 months and two years to make the successful transition from parent to independent person. In the meantime, there are helpful strategies available for expediting the healing process. These include:
- Acknowledging grief and allowing yourself to feel upset
- Therapeutic rituals such as planting a tree or redecorating your child’s old bedroom
- Discussing thoughts, feelings and future plans with your spouse
- Connecting with friends who are recent empty-nesters
- Returning or retraining for the work force
- Writing a list of those things you put off during child raising years
- Setting achievable, short-term goals such as signing up for semester-long courses at a local college
- Networking with friends to gain insight into their lives as empty nesters
- Joining professional associations or hobby groups
- Volunteering for a local organization or church group
It is also important to note that if you continue to feel overwhelmed or unable to adapt, seek professional help. Occasionally, empty nest syndrome leads to diagnosable mental health conditions such as depression, which may be alleviated with psychotherapy or medications such as antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs.
If you are a soon-to-be empty nester, preparation is key. If one child has moved out and you still have others living at home with you, plan in advance for the day when your nest will be empty of all children. Small changes made over time will mean less of a shock when your last child moves out. You may find, with proper preparation, that the occasion of your last child leaving home will be a joyful experience. Remember, a child moving out of home is a sign of a successful child, as well as a successful parent.
Have you had experience with empty nest syndrome? Will you have an empty nest in the near future? How do you plan to cope with that change? Share your thoughts below!