Life has a funny way of throwing parents curve balls. When you get married, it’s all, “When are you going to have kids? You must have kids! Kids, kids, kids!” So you rearrange your life for these little ones, your offspring, God’s blessings – and pour them all the time, love, sacrifice, and effort they require.
Then one day, they all leave. Poof! School’s done, employment’s doing well, the transition to productive adulthood complete. Congratulations, parents, on a job well done!
But what comes next? When raising children, the rhyme and reason for parenthood, is over, where does that leave you?
Empty Nest Syndrome, “Feelings of depression, sadness, and/or grief experienced by parents and caregivers after children come of age and leave their childhood homes," according to Psychology Today, is a very real struggle for many parents. It can last anywhere from 18 months to two years. It affects more women than men. It can also trigger a period of reevaluation and introspection, which can leave parents vulnerable to identity and marital crises, and even destructive behaviors such as alcoholism.
If you are or will soon be an empty nester, take heart. It is natural to feel loss and even grieve during this period, so don’t shrug it off and hope to get over it. Acknowledge the sadness and do your best to cope. Here are some expert tips:
- Plan ahead. If your last child is about to leave home, start looking for opportunities that will keep you busy and engaged. This may be the time to start the backyard renovation you’d had your heart set on for years.
- Seek support. Other parents are going through the same thing as you – reach out and share your experiences. As the saying goes, “A burden shared is a burden halved.”
- Keep in touch. Make an effort to keep the communication lines open with your child through phone or video calls, chats, social media, and periodic visits.
- Take up a hobby. When kids are growing up, time is the greatest luxury. Now you’ll have all the time in the world to take up scuba diving, knitting, writing, gourmet cooking, or anything else you’ve always wanted to try.
- Rekindle romance. It’s no secret that the stresses of child rearing can kill intimacy in marriage. Now that you and your spouse have the house to yourselves, explore what ignited your passion for each other in the first place. And if you are single, now’s the time to start opening yourself up to the possibility of romance re-entering your life.
The empty nest is a life phase just as marriage and parenthood were. Lean into the experience and remember: you, too, can get through this.