Empty Nest Syndrome: What You Need to Know

If you are experiencing mixed emotions about your first or last child leaving home now that he/she is all grown up, you may be on the brink of diving headfirst into a case of empty nest syndrome. Experts describe empty nest syndrome as more of a phenomenon than an actual clinical diagnosis. It most frequently occurs when older adults begin to face the reality of living alone after one or all their children leave home. Parents dealing with empty nest syndrome may face a multitude of emotions, ranging from sadness and loss to tumultuous feelings of anxiety.

Who is at Risk for Empty Nest Syndrome?

Believe it or not, empty nest syndrome can occur at various stages in our lives. Although it most frequently affects older adults with children, not all people who experience empty nest syndrome are parents. It can take place as we navigate major milestones or transitions in our lives. The death of a loved one, job loss, retirement, relocation, or even divorce can trigger emotions that align with empty nest syndrome. In a nutshell, empty nest syndrome may emerge any time there is a significant impact on our lives that may challenge us to re-examine who we are, or how we will identify ourselves afterward.

Empty nest syndrome occurs more frequently than we might think due to a continuing restructuring of the traditional family in modern society. Extended family networks are not as secure as they once were, and as a result, many older adults have family members who do not live nearby, as was once the norm. This continuing evolution leaves many older adults alone. Some older adults may feel as though they must navigate challenging life experiences and illnesses without the presence and support of their children and other members of the family circle.

 …marriages or relationships with significant others may encounter a tsunami of challenges, as revelations about the actual state of those relationships can sometimes appear, unveiling problems that were suppressed for the sake of children…

Impact of Empty Nest Syndrome

The impact of empty nest syndrome can be brutal if left unrecognized and unaddressed. Feelings of anxiety, isolation, depression, and a sense of guilt in parents who may feel they may not have done enough for their children may emerge. Also, marriages or relationships with significant others may encounter a tsunami of challenges, as revelations about the actual state of those relationships can sometimes appear, unveiling problems that were suppressed for the sake of children. Others may struggle to take care of their essential needs, such as having healthy eating habits or getting a good night’s rest.

How to Survive Empty Nest Syndrome

Plan Ahead: Start having the tough conversations now with your partner about how life will look after the kids leave home. Start making plans. Will you travel more now that the children are gone? Will you downsize your home or start a home improvement project? Even if you are preparing to embark on a new stage of life, such as retirement, start planning now. What will life look like with this new transition?

Find Other Empty Nesters: Look for others who might be able to lend a bit of support that have also lived through the experience. They can serve as a sounding board and provide useful advice on how to survive this difficult time.

Get a Hobby and Become a Social Butterfly: You may find that your calendar looks a bit different with no children at home to fill it. If you do not have a hobby that suits you, now may be the time to find one. Another positive side effect of this impending change may include the opportunity to become a social butterfly. In the current pandemic world, there’s tons of technology to help you connect with friends and family, or schedule time for that digital face-to-face experience with a new group of friends.

Learn to Love Yourself: Finally, learn to enjoy spending time alone. Being alone does not have to be sad or lonely, but instead can be a time in which you get to learn about who you are, what you like/don’t like, and to learn new ways in which to prioritize yourself. Don’t depend on your spouse/significant other to fill all the space left by departing children. Discuss how you will each spend your new-found free time, both together, and engaged in separate activities well before you find yourself feeling neglected.

The power to overcome empty nest syndrome completely rests in your hands. This can be one of the most rewarding phases in your life, if you allow it to be.

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