Empty Nest Syndrome Is Real And Can Be Dangerous
Empty nest syndrome…you’ve heard of it in the past, yet never really understood what it was. Not until today. College classes begin on Monday and it’s time to move your last child into the dorm. She’s excited, yet anxious, knowing her life is about to change. Your delighted, proud and pleased to see her all grown up and about to start her life journey outside of the nest. But yet, there’s this subtle feeling of melancholy and loss, anxiety and mixed emotions that’s finding refuge within. You’re happy, yet sad. Thrilled, yet somewhat distressed, for you sense that not only is her life about to change, but your’s as well.
And there’s nothing you can do to change it.
Welcome to the world of the empty nester. The symptoms and feelings described above are commonly described as empty nest syndrome. It is not an illness, nor is it a chronic condition that needs to be addressed by a doctor or therapist. It’s a temporary condition and feeling of loss that’s commonly found in parents whose last child is about to leave the home and start their own life. Rest assured that nothing is wrong. It is a naturally occurring feeling that will indeed lessen over time.
Who is most susceptible to empty nest syndrome? According to research, those who fall into the following categories may be most vulnerable:
- Women/men who have been stay-at-home, full-time, primary caregivers
- Those who have their self-identity tied into care-taking
- Those who have difficulty adjusting to change
- Those suffering from high stress, especially in their personal and/or home life. Examples may include the death of spouse, divorce, menopause, loss of job, financial difficulties, moving, and retirement.
Empty Nest Challenges
The term “empty nest” was popularized by sociologists in the 1970s, and since those days the media has contributed towards making its existence part of conventional every-day life conversation. Sure, having your last child leave the home may be emotional. It may signal the end of an era and being a part of your child’s daily life. You may worry about their safety, and question if you adequately prepared them for the twist and turns of the road ahead.
Rest assured these are common thoughts and feelings for parents. However, for many the onset of being an empty nester carries with it a variety of other concerns. For many, these can be very realistic anxieties.
Consider the following:
- A last child leaving home may signal the loss of daily routines, job duties, and responsibilities that have been a part of daily life for decades.
- A last child leaving may signify the loss of a daily companionship whose presence will be sorely missed.
- A last child leaving home may hold some fear of having to face and return to an unstable or unsatisfactory marriage.
- It improves the chances of one or both parents experiencing depression due to a loss of purpose and fulfillment.
- Experiencing depression may increase the likelihood that a parent may be tempted to resort to behaviors that may lead to increased stress levels, alcoholism, drug abuse, and/or self-isolation.
- One or both parents may encounter some distress at having greater free time available to themselves and not knowing what to do with it
Understanding why empty nest syndrome happens and knowing what you can do about it is important to moving ahead with your life.
What You Can Do
What can a person do who is suffering from empty nest syndrome and how can a person lessen the odds of coping with it? Here are 11 suggestions:
- Explore and establish new ways to connect and interact with your children: If your not already familiar, learn to text, email, make video calls, and familiarize yourself with Facebook, Instagram, and any other forms of social media they may engage in. These platforms offer a great way to share pictures, exchange ideas and thoughts, and follow interest in which they are engaged in. It’s a great way show interest in what they’re doing.
- Send “care” packages: Let your child know your thinking of them by sending an array of snacks, “stocking stuffers”, books, and/or treats to let them know you’re thinking of them. These packages can coincide with special events, holidays, final exams, or be totally random in nature.
- Engage in work outside of the home: An unprecedented number of primary caretakers now work outside of the home giving them a role and identity beyond that of parent. Go back to work if it brings you joy. Just make sure to pick something that brings you pleasure and isn’t too stressful.
- Involve yourself in hobbies or other personal interest: What is it that you’ve always wanted to do more of but never had the time? Now you do! Sign up and enroll for that class on glass-blowing, photography, or poetry. Check-out a book from the library and scour the internet to find more information about others who are doing what you think you’d like to do. Get self-motivated and watch how your world changes! Indulge yourself in dance classes, yoga, painting, photography, and/or book clubs to name a few options.
- Become involved in community activities: Church activities, local government, homecoming parades, food drives, or the local Sunday morning pancake breakfast.
- Volunteer: At your local church, in a cause you believe in, or in one of the many non-profits that help others world wide. The opportunities are endless!
- Travel: Start a plan to visit those places you’ve always read about but never had the time or means to visit. Life is short…spread your wings!
- Journal: Sit down and write about whatever gives you pleasure whether it be dreams, travel ideas, creative thoughts, or how you might plan your life over the next year, two, or five.
- Further your personal growth: What is it that you’ve always wanted to do but never had the time to pursue? Go back to school and/or seek knowledge in interests you may have. Research and attend a seminar for the weekend. You now have the time and freedom to pursue whatever you wish.
- Reestablish intimate connections with your spouse: Now that your children have left the nest and assuming your relationship with your spouse is good, add some spice and unpredictability to both of your lives. Surprise your spouse with a planned romantic weekend get-away, a candle-light dinner with some soothing background music, or a bubble bath that both of you can take together. Keep the relationship interesting and full of surprises!
- Embrace your new freedom: Many parents get a new lease on life when their children leave the nest. Take some time to decide what it is you’d like to explore, find your voice, and go for it. Be your wonderful, unique, individual self!
Empty nest syndrome, while it may carry with it some anxious, stress-filled life changes, can also offer some great opportunities for yourself once you’ve readjusted to the life transition. Keep your spirits up and look on the bright side of what lies ahead. Your child is on their way to paving a new life for themselves. It’s time you do the same thing for yourself.