Empty Nest Syndrome
Your child has flown the nest. What do you do
When “Empty Nest Syndrome Lingers?”.
In the quiet left behind after the departure of the last or only child, it’s natural for parents, especially mothers, to grieve. The routine of the household and, to a degree, the identity of the parent is drastically and forever altered.
“From the sandbox to the senior prom, they’ve been my life,” said Barbara S. “Now that they’re gone, there’s a huge hole — in my time, my heart, my life. I’m asking myself, “What do I do now?”
While not a true psychiatric diagnosis, the symptoms of empty nest syndrome can be similar to those of depression.
Mothers tend to struggle more with their grief than fathers. You are more likely to have been the primary caregiver, even if you were a working mother. And your sense of self-worth was more likely linked to your role as a mother. For either parent, the separation can be very painful. This grief is often disregarded and misunderstood.
Sometimes empty nest syndrome is compounded by other stressful life changes happening at the same time, such as retirement or menopause.
What can make the transition easier?
Most parents will establish a new kind of relationship with their now-adult child. Parents may renew their relationship with each other after years of sharing the household with children and come to enjoy their new freedom. Over time, most parents adapt to their new lifestyle but it may take a while.
Here are some things you can do to fill the empty space and launch your new life:
- Take time to reflect on the good job you did of raising this child to adulthood.
- Acknowledge your grief and allow yourself to feel upset for awhile. Then find something distracting to do.
- Volunteer, take a class, find a new hobby or pick up an old one, join a group,
- Keep a journal.
- Send “care packages,” food or things for the new dorm or apartment.
- Get support: When you’re feeling sad and lonely, seek advice and support from friends.
- Take care of yourself with a healthy diet and regular exercise.
- Take a trip or get involved in a new activity with your spouse. Rekindle the intimacy you enjoyed before you became parents.
- Update a photo album, create a scrapbook or a collage to hang on your child’s bedroom wall. Remember happy times.
- Schedule a weekly chat with your child on the phone.
- Don’t make any major decisions, such as moving or changing jobs, until you’ve had some time to adjust to your new lifestyle.
A major loss or change can trigger episodes of depression. If you have been experiencing four or more of the symptoms of depression for longer than two weeks, call your doctor. Treatment, which is highly effective, may include medications and/or psychotherapy.
Australian Psychological Society
U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services/Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration