If your last child is all grown up and about to leave home — or he or she has already moved out — you might be experiencing some mixed emotions. Understand why empty nest syndrome happens and what you can do about it.
What's empty nest syndrome and why do some parents experience it?
Empty nest syndrome isn't a clinical diagnosis. Instead, empty nest syndrome is a phenomenon in which parents experience feelings of sadness and loss when the last child leaves home.
Although you might actively encourage your children to become independent, the experience of letting go can be painful. You might find it difficult to suddenly have no children at home who need your care. You might miss being a part of your children's daily lives — as well as the constant companionship.
You might also worry intensely about your children's safety and whether they'll be able to take care of themselves on their own. You might struggle with the transition if your last child leaves the nest a little earlier or later than you expected. If you have only one child or strongly identify with your role as parent, you might have a particularly difficult time adjusting to an empty nest.
What's the impact of empty nest syndrome?
In the past, research suggested that parents dealing with empty nest syndrome experienced a profound sense of loss that might make them vulnerable to depression, alcoholism, identity crisis and marital conflicts.
However, recent studies suggest that an empty nest might reduce work and family conflicts, and can provide parents with many other benefits. When the last child leaves home, parents have a new opportunity to reconnect with each other, improve the quality of their marriage and rekindle interests for which they previously might not have had time.
How can I cope with empty nest syndrome?
If you're experiencing feelings of loss due to empty nest syndrome, take action. For example:
- Accept the timing. Avoid comparing your child's timetable to your own experience or expectations. Instead, focus on what you can do to help your child succeed when he or she does leave home.
- Keep in touch. You can continue to be close to your children even when you live apart. Make an effort to maintain regular contact through visits, phone calls, emails, texts or video chats.
- Seek support. If you're having a difficult time dealing with an empty nest, lean on loved ones and other close contacts for support. Share your feelings. If you feel depressed, consult your doctor or a mental health provider.
- Stay positive. Thinking about the extra time and energy you might have to devote to your marriage or personal interests after your last child leaves home might help you adapt to this major life change.
Can I prevent empty nest syndrome?
If your last child is about to leave home and you're worried about empty nest syndrome, plan ahead. Look for new opportunities in your personal and professional life. Keeping busy or taking on new challenges at work or at home can help ease the sense of loss that your child's departure might cause.