Tonia N. Adams
When our children are young, we are tempted to wish they were older given all the hard work and sleepless nights required to care for them. We somehow think that after they are grown it becomes easier. This is not always the case.When the last child is grown and leaves home it causes a big change for the parents. Even though the goal of raising children is to teach them how to set out on their own in adulthood, parents find themselves battling empty nest syndrome.
There is no medical diagnosis for empty nest syndrome but the symptoms and effects of becoming a childless home are real. These symptoms can affect parents mentally as well as physically. It is a process of learning how to deal with the changes that come with children leaving home to create a life of their own.
What is empty nest syndrome?
Empty nest syndrome describes the feelings that come with no longer having children at home to take care of. Most of these feelings revolve around the loss of purpose as a parent. There may be bouts of sadness which can lead to depression and anxiety. This sadness can be mixed with a feeling of accomplishment as a parent watches their child embark on their life journey.
Parents feel as though they are no longer needed as they see their child making new friendships and experiencing new places as an adult with the ability to make decisions. Even though the overall life change is exciting it still leaves parents feeling empty. When a parent transitions to being the parent of an adult child, it can be difficult to navigate the emotions.
What makes some parents more susceptible to empty nest syndrome?
There could be some indicators that identify some parents as being more susceptible to experiencing feelings of empty nest syndrome. One of the most common indicators is being a parent of a single child. After having so much time with the child and then having to navigate daily life without them, it can be difficult to get into a routine of living a life without having to be a caretaker.
Parents who have children who move out sooner than expected also tend to be at risk for empty nest syndrome. When a parent can prepare for a child to move out the emotions may not be as intense and can be more manageable.
If there are relationship issues between the parents this may cause the couple to be more susceptible to empty nest syndrome. Feeling alone because a child has left home coupled with the loneliness in a marriage can create intense feelings of depression, sadness, and anxiety.
Parents who were full-time parents tend to experience a deeper feeling of loss when a child moves out. They find that they no longer need to do all the things that had kept them busy through the day. This can prompt depression.
Most common symptoms.
Just like everything else, the way a person experiences empty nest syndrome is unique. It may look different from person to person. One parent may seem just fine while the other parent is having a difficult time adjusting to the child being gone.
If it appears there has been a loss in the ability to focus on work or school. This can also be related to lack of sleep.
Life just may not feel right, while simultaneously the parent may experience loss of energy and motivation.
Although there is still communication with the child, the parent may feel lonely even if the parent is not alone at home.
When a parent feels like they no longer have control or that they are no longer important, they may experience bouts of irritability. These feelings may not be directed at a person intentionally but rather they are directed at the situation.
Parental role changes.
Now that parents no longer have the responsibility of a child at home they may feel as though they have no other way to connect.
When the feelings of being sad go beyond occasional there could be a chance that the parent is experiencing depression. It is important to get help for these intense feelings of sadness.
Constant worry about how the child is doing can cause the parent to experience anxiety. They may resort to calling or texting excessively.
The new habits and rhythms can create anxiety, whether it is adjusting to the new routine, experiencing less connectedness, or feeling unneeded. A parent will need balance connecting with their child while still allowing them to have their freedom. This requires understanding that the child has established their own rhythms and lifestyle.
Another key acceptance is allowing others, including a partner, to experience the child’s leaving differently. Others may not feel as overwhelmed about the situation and that is ok. Recognizing that not everyone facing the same emotional struggle may not handle it the same way.
How long does it last?
There is no time limit as to how long empty nest syndrome may last. It is dependent upon the person and the intensity of their emotions. While some may work through the transition in a few months, others may take years to get accustomed to having a childless home. The most common suggestion is that eighteen months to two years is a common time frame for overcoming the emotions of empty nest syndrome.
What are the benefits of an empty nest?
Once a parent has navigated the transition of a child moving out, they may begin to experience the benefits of having an empty nest. Typically, empty nest parents begin to experience positive changes.
Now, with more quality time to spend together, a couple may rediscover one another and experience improved intimacy. Without the hassle of day-to-day logistics, parent and child can even have improved communication and a better relationship A slowed pace allows more time for self-discovery, developing interests formerly set aside, and a greater capacity for professional growth.
Eventually, the child’s launch into adulthood may yield an expansion of the family through marriage and grandchildren. It may take time, but the future holds new blessings for the person experiencing empty nest syndrome.
How does a parent cope with empty nest syndrome?
Even though the situation is unpleasant, and the emotions can be scattered, there are ways to cope with having an empty nest. It does help to remember that these emotions will not last forever. There are beneficial things to come from this transition.
Some of the best ways to cope with empty nest syndrome are:
Spread your social circle.
Spend time with other adults in your life.
Keep in touch with your children.
Just because they are no longer in the house does not mean you cannot talk to them. Find a way to have a weekly conversation or dinner just to check in and see how they are doing.
Practice taking care of yourself.
Now that you have spare time, you can focus on your health, hobbies, and adventures.
Adopt a pet.
Sometimes a pet can bring back that sense of being needed. This can also add activity and a new routine to your life.
Do not rush the emotions.
Take time to adapt to the changes by allowing yourself to work through the transitional emotions.
Start a journal.
Writing down memories can become a keepsake for your child.
Maintain prayer time.
There is nothing better than connecting with God when you feel down or overwhelmed.
Repurpose your child’s room.
Turn the space into the library and reading space you have always wanted. By changing the room, you allow yourself to accept the transition.
Treatment for empty nest syndrome.
The most common concerns with empty nest syndrome are depression and anxiety. When sadness and worry begin to become debilitating it could be time to seek treatment from a Christian counselor. There are several options for treating depression and anxiety through faith-based plans created by a Christian counselor.
Even though children are supposed to grow up and embark on their own journey in life, it is not an easy transition for parents. There are ways to make the transition easier and to begin to enjoy the new lifestyle of empty nest living. While some parents are more susceptible to empty nest syndrome than others, it is fine to be on your own journey.
If you are concerned that you, or a parent you know, are developing depression or anxiety, reach out. Contact our office today for assistance in connecting to a Christian counselor who could help you.
Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. – Isaiah 43:19, ESV
“Admiring the View”, Courtesy of Noah Silliman, Unsplash.com, CC0 License;”Empty Nest”, Courtesy of Laura Ockel, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Start Your Own Chapter”, Courtesy of Waranont (Joe), Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Seedlings”, Courtesy of Daniel Oberg, Unsplash.com, CC0 License
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