Children leaving home can be a daunting beginning of a new chapter. Empty nesting is often uncomfortable, and can leave us feeling sad, anxious and lost.
Seven years ago my daughter left home and started university in another city. My stepson was 10 at the time and at our home part time. For the first few months I experienced deep grief and sadness. Her absence left a hole in my life. I felt lost and anxious. I became worried about her safety, and all the other things in her life I could not longer control.
This stage of life is commonly referred to as Empty Nest Syndrome. Sometimes this time of life is overlooked, because it’s a “normal” stage for children to eventually leave home. Parents may report feelings similar to depression: a deep sense of sadness, chronic emptiness, loss of motivation and interest in things they used to be interested in, difficulty sleeping, issues with appetite, low energy, and others.
Certain factors can increase our feelings of grief. Being a single parent, having a couple relationship that is struggling, feeling isolated, or having little contact with extended family, community or close friendships, can all lead to a more complicated response to our children leaving home.
One of the tasks of empty nesting is to redefine our relationship with the emerging adults that leave home. What are these new roles? What does connecting with our children look like now that they don’t live at home? Are our needs the same?
Some parents are still hoping for daily connection and may have to adjust their expectations. Adult children need to start forming their own life, start feeling secure in their choices and independence. Try to come to an agreement on how to stay in touch. It’s important to support them in making their own decisions. Let them know you trust them to make the choices that are right for them.
Another task of empty nesting is to embrace the changes it can bring to your daily life. Ideally, we now have time to shift our energy and focus away from caregiving and towards ourselves and other relationships. Meditation, reading, journal writing, resting, yoga, travel, starting a hobby you explored years ago or have thought of exploring, are all options now. You can focus your complete attention on creating a full life of purpose and joy. With each new struggle, each experience of change, we learn more about ourselves. We learn more about who we are. This is a time to embrace and thrive in a new chapter in your life.
Often we have issues from earlier in our life that we haven’t had time or opportunity to process. If you’re noticing you’re struggling through this stage and you feel you need more support, consider reaching out and making an appointment. Therapy can help you navigate through this challenging but ultimately rewarding time.