After years of having your children around, suddenly your house is empty. Whether you were a stay-at-home parent or busy with a career while you raised your kids, everyone feels the effects of the empty nest. But contrary to popular belief, the result is not always negative. Having your children fly the nest comes with some bonuses!
Read on to find out how an empty nest might affect you, and how to start your new life in the best possible way when it does.
• Sense of Loss – Being a parent is a huge role and responsibility. It’s not just something you do, it’s something you are. So when your child leaves, it’s likely that more than just your home is going to feel empty. You may feel like an entire section of your identity has been taken away. Many parents struggle with a profound sense of loss.
• Identity Crisis – Now that parenting isn’t as big a part of your identity, who are you? You may feel you don’t have as much direction in life, or you don’t know how to fill your time.
• Depression – It’s common to feel a deep sense of loss when your kids move out of your home. Often, it’s accompanied by loneliness and lowered self-worth. It’s important to monitor and notice when temporary feelings of sadness turn into prolonged depression.
• A Change in your Marriage – Most children in the United States stay in the house for at least 18 years. During that time there’s an intense focus on raising them. But, when they leave, things may feel very different. Sometimes, couples focus so much on their kids that they forget to maintain their own relationship. When the kids are gone, that fact can become much more obvious.
• Changing Role as a Parent – When your kids live in the house, your role as a parent is more defined. Now that they’re gone, what is your parenting style? Should you text them once a week, or once a day? Should you make plans for the holidays or wait for them to say something? And now that you don’t see them every day, you may feel worried or anxious about their well-being.
• Think about New Roles – Consider writing a list of all the roles you play in life. Include anything that you dedicate a large amount of time and energy to, like wife, husband, sister, neighbor, friend, pet owner, your job, and any other activities you’re involved in. Then look at your list and think about how you can grow in those areas. For example, you can rekindle relationships, consider dating if you’re single, or focus more on your career (or hobbies, if retired).
• Focus on your Interests – When dealing with loss, most people can’t simply get over it. They have to replace the significant things in their life they’ve lost. Even when that loss is normal, like an empty nest. Now’s your time to find or rediscover your interests and start exploring them. Sit down and create a passions list. Experiment with your interest and connect with others who share it. Look for meet-ups around you (Meetup.com is great website that facilitates this). If you feel out of touch with your passions after years of raising children think back to your interests before you had kids and think about pursuing them again.
• Reconnect with your Spouse – Now is it a great time to renew your relationship with your significant other. Find some time to schedule a date night. Try to sneak in a trip to somewhere you’ve always been meaning to go. Try to create small rituals like chatting before bed or drinking your morning coffee together. During that time, put away your phones, turn off the TV, and devote 100% of your attention to one another.
• Find Support – Don’t be afraid to rely on support networks you already have. Talking to friends and family can be huge sources of relief during this time. Finding a support group can be a huge help, as well. If feelings of loss endure for a prolonged time, consider seeking out help from a professional counselor.
• Start Early – It is usually best to make a headstart on these steps before your child leaves home. That way the transition will likely be less difficult. Try to plan in advance.
• Think Positive – An empty nest can be a blessing in disguise. Many parents experience relief, new freedom, and new energy. In fact, a lot of research is starting to take a new look at the old ideas about children leaving the nest. Studies have found that most parents experience greater freedom and a reconnection with their spouses.
Perhaps most significantly, many report that the parent/child relationship improves when the nest is empty. Karen Fingerman, an author of one study, interviewed college students about their perceptions. “Students always think their parents are doing worse now that they’re gone,” she said. “Of course, you want to think that when you move out, your mom must be devastated, but that’s not validated by the research.”
Try to view your children moving out as the beginning of another exciting chapter in your life. Think about how much you have to look forward to!