Coping with the Empty Nest

There comes a time in just about every parent’s life when the job of raising his/her children is done. After being in this parental day-to-day role for so many years it’s inevitable that parents come to define themselves chiefly as parent. When the kids are ready to break away from the nest to build their own lives, it’s not surprising that many parents feel sadness, loss, anxiety and confusion about their future. As children begin to leave the safety of the family home to go to an out of state college or start a job in a different area of the country or enter military service, or marry and create a nest of their own it is often a new and a very exciting phase in their lives. They are curious and excited about what lies ahead for them. They are also pretty eager to show just how well they can do on their own. Feeling independent, children leaving the home feel the same excitement as the “look what I can do” phase during their earlier years of growing up. Independence looks pretty good from the children’s perspective.

Parents can find that they are somewhat lost or unsure about how to fare with the changes. The exit from the nest is arguably a very different experience for those left behind, than it is for those who are striking out on their own for the first time. Even though it is a natural part of seeing their children grow up, parents might not have the same sense of curiosity, anticipation, and excitement about the changes that are occurring for them. Some parents are able to experience only the loss they feel, as children leave the home and, in some sense, render their parents ‘unemployed’ and perhaps without direction. What does it take for parents to cope with this new aspect of their lives? Parents don’t have to be destined to suffer from empty nest syndrome once the kids have moved on. However, there has to be an interest in and a willingness to try to reinvent one’s life once the daily demands of parenting are gone.

Empty nest syndrome doesn’t have to mean that parents no longer have a purpose in life. Not all parents experience empty nest syndrome. Instead,  they view this time as a new phase of their own lives as well. For example, depending on the number of kids a couple has, it has probably been quite a while since the parents only had one another to talk to. When the children leave and the parents are home alone, it can be like having one door close while another one opens. Empty nest syndrome is not meant to be an endpoint in anyone’s life. Parents have not really lost their children; they just don’t have to clean up after them anymore or fix all their problems.

It’s natural for parents to miss their children when they go out on their own. Without the day-to-day goings on that children bring to a family, sadness or loneliness might emerge. It can take time for parents to realize that they also have the option of discovering new hobbies, activities, people and places. Some parents find that they are having a hard a time trying to adjust. When that happens speaking with a therapist will help parents examine these feelings to help them redirect their energy and embrace new opportunities. There is much more to life than filling the space that the children once occupied. The bottom line is that we all have feelings and reactions; they are a part of living life. When struggling parents try to understand their own reactions to these changes, it becomes more likely that they can become excited about the next step in their life’s journey. Often parents that get kind of stuck in the loss can gain some awareness that painful feelings might have more to do with a personal issue than with a parenting one. This can be an important growth area for them. Once the adjustment to the empty nest can be made, parents are more likely to look forward to the future with some of the same enthusiasm and anticipation that their children have.

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