Gone are the days when you were always on your toes, going after your children and tidying the house. The house is now quiet, and the feeling is new. So what do you do now that the kids are all grown up? Seeing how different your home has become now that the children are gone can make you feel sentimental, nostalgic, and depressed. This is true, especially if you’re a stay-at-home mother who spends a significant part of your life caring for your children.
Empty Nest Syndrome
Empty nest syndrome (ENS) is a period of mourning and adjustment for parents. This grief of parents stems from the moment their children leave their homes.
ENS is a significant life change that typically affects the 40–50 age group. It is more common among women than men. Many mothers may experience mood swings, irregularities in sleep, hot flashes, and other disturbing symptoms. Once adult children leave the family home, mothers start to feel worthless. They have dedicated their lives to caring for their children. Then, when the children are all grown up, they feel that their “job” is over and nothing is worthwhile.
Signs of ENS and Depression
You’re suffering from empty nest depression if you experience the following:
1. Loss of Purpose
It is common for many parents to feel lost and confused after their children leave the nest. As young parents, their days were filled with their children’s school activities and family activities. Now that the children have lives of their own, it’s difficult to even start the day.
You are now frustrated because you don’t know what is happening to your children. You used to know what they were up to every single day. You are also frustrated because you feel you no longer have control over them.
If you are used to being a helicopter parent, it’s time you forget about being one. Do your best to give your children their own space to breathe and live their own lives. You have prepared them well for adult life. Be confident and believe that your children can survive the harsh realities of adult life. At the same, offer them support if they need it. Remind them that you don’t stop being their parent just because they don’t live in your house anymore
3. Emotional Suffering
It is normal to feel sad during this stage in your life. The list below shows the possible reasons causing this feeling of sadness.
- Your children are now adults.
- You didn’t spend time with your kids when they were younger.
- You are scared of getting older.
- You are uncertain about your married life.
- You didn’t reach the goals you aspired for in life.
4. Marital Stress
Most couples tend to focus more on the children and neglect their marriage once the kids enter the picture. Couples are then left staring at each other as soon as the children move out of the nest. They don’t seem to know how to interact with each other without their children. Getting to know each other again can be such a hassle. But, you started this family together. This means you can get out of this empty nest phase better together.
5. Anxiety about Your Children
You are scared of what your children might be going through outside in the real world. This anxious feeling is normal. However, be cautious of excessive anxiety.
You can check up on them the first few days after they leave. Your children would appreciate it. Just make sure not to bother them every day as this may annoy them.
Also, don’t stalk your kids online via their social media accounts. They’d know where to find you if they need you, so let them live their lives whichever way they want to.
Parents suffering from empty nest syndrome have several common depressive symptoms such as:
- Finding change stressful
- Feeling that moving out is a difficult emotional experience
- Unhappy marriage
- Feeling hurt because their children are no longer dependent on them and are exploring the world independently
- Worrying their children are not equipped to take on roles as young adults
Who Is More Likely to Experience Empty Nest Syndrome?
Research suggests that full-time parents are more likely to have ENS due to the following reasons:
- They can’t live alone.
- They’re struggling with their marriage.
- They derived their self-identity from their parenting roles.
Challenges Brought by Empty Nest Syndrome
Having ENS comes with a number of challenges, such as:
- Establishing and maintaining a new type of relationship with your adult child
- How to be a sweet couple again now that the children are not around anymore
- How to fill up your daily schedule now that there are fewer things to do
- Inconsideration and lack of sympathy from others because they don’t understand you
How to Deal With Empty Nest Syndrome
There are so many ways empty nesters can battle ENS. They can communicate with their children online, explore a new hobby, and make time for their friends who are also empty nesters.
If only one adult child has left the family home and you still have other children living with you, you can start to prepare yourself for the empty nest. You can gradually adjust to the idea that your children will eventually have lives of their own. However, this can be quite challenging for parents with only one child.
If you have experienced major depression in the past, you are most likely to develop empty nest syndrome. Here are some tips on how you can cope with ENS.
1. Acknowledge Your Grief
Allow yourself to be sad about feeling empty. Acknowledge your feelings once you’re done crying. Talk about your sadness to your partner or friends. Don’t hesitate to seek their support and advice if you need them.
2. Give Yourself Time
Change is hard and adjusting to it takes time, so don’t pressure yourself to feel better right away.
This is the time you tick items off your bucket list. If you have dreams of finishing school, now is a perfect time to pursue them. Join socio-civil groups or do volunteer work if you’ve been putting off both due to lack of time.
Start keeping a journal or take an interest in meditation or yoga. Make sure to keep your health in check. Eat healthily and be diligent in visiting your doctor for checkups.
3. Focus On the Positive Side
Many parents report that they have better relationships with their children after they leave their family home. As an empty nester, you now have more time for yourself. You can start developing your relationships with other family members, friends, and colleagues.
4. Seek Treatment
You should seek treatment if the depression is unbearable and persists longer than two weeks, as there should be a line that differentiates ENS from depression.
Treatment is needed to deal with depression as a mental illness. Treatments range from joining support groups, talking to a psychologist for counseling, and visiting a psychiatrist for antidepressant medications. Mental health professionals can also recommend treatment facilities in your area to help you deal with your depression with greater convenience.
Adult Children Should Help Their Parents Cope
Adult children are often excited about venturing on their own and claiming their independence. Because of this, they often forget about their parents.
Parents are always supportive of their children. Even if they feel sad and uncomfortable about the idea of their children leaving them, they have to put on a brave face.
As an adult child, don’t forget about your parents. A big part of their lives was focused on you. They still think about you even if you’re miles away from them.
Show that you appreciate your parents by helping them cope with empty nest syndrome. Here are some tips:
- Call them. You don’t have to call them every day, but be sure to make an effort during special days like birthdays, Christmas, New Year, and anniversaries.
- Visit them even for a short while on your day-offs. Invite them to spend some trips or vacations with you.
- Set up get-togethers for your parents and their friends. This is a great way for them to ease the sadness that they feel about you leaving.
- If your parents are really struggling with ENS, accompany them to a mental health professional. Be with them during their sessions. You can also look for support groups that they can be a part of.
Remember that your parents are growing old. They need to make as many happy memories as possible, so try as hard as you can to make time for them.
A Bittersweet Feeling
You have spent almost or more than half of your life with your children, so it can be very scary once they leave home. Bear in mind that your feelings are normal and valid. Every empty nester is familiar with the pain and sadness you’re going through now that your children are gone and have lives of their own.
Feeling alone and depressed can be unbearable, especially if you miss your children a lot. Kentucky Counseling Center (KCC) understands what empty nesters go through. Our professional staff can help you adjust to this new chapter of your life with their support and advice. Contact us now and avail of our counseling services that can help you make your life as an empty nester easier and more worthwhile.