The goal of raising children is to send them out in the world to become functionally, happy, well-adjusted adults. But knowing that intellectually–and even working towards it consciously as they grow–doesn’t prepare us for the experience of grief and loss when our children leave home for college, work, or other reasons. We grieve the loss of a lifestyle and relationship that was part of our identity and daily life.
In spite of the joy, freedom, pride, excitement and relief we feel when our children set off into the world, this time can also be a difficult adjustment period for parents, who may feel lonely, bored, anxious, restless, and sad after years of being busy with raising children, and miss them. On the one hand, we’re proud to see our child go out into the world as an independent young adult. On the other hand, we can’t help but worry over their well-being while grieving the closeness that came with living under the same roof. This experience is so common it’s colloquially called “empty nest syndrome.”
The challenging experience of an “empty nest” is a normal part of life, and it is important for parents to remember that they are not alone. There are many resources available to help parents cope with this transition, including support groups, counseling, and online resources.
Some things that might be helpful during this period of transition are:
- Allow yourself to grieve the loss of your child. It is normal to feel sad, lonely, and angry when your child leaves home.
- Stay connected with your child, while still respecting their needs for independence. Schedule time to talk to them on the phone, visit them, and send them letters or emails.
- Stay active and involved in your community. Join a club, take a class, or volunteer.
- Take up new hobbies or interests. This is a great time to try something you’ve always wanted to do or travel to places you’ve always wanted to visit.
- Spend time with your spouse, partner and friends. This is a great opportunity to reconnect with each other.
- Take care of yourself. Make sure you are eating healthy, getting enough sleep, and exercising.
It’s also important to note that often this experience isn’t limited to a single event. We may feel it when our kids graduate high school and feel it again when they leave home. It may surface again when they graduate from college or get married, or when they move to a different city. All of these events symbolize moments of separation from us and a different kind of “leaving.” All of them may cause these feelings to surface again.
Empty nest can be a difficult time, but it is also a time of opportunity. Parents can use this time to focus on themselves, people in their life that are important to them, and their own interests. They can also use this time to reconnect with their community, explore activities they have been unable to, and make new friends.