By Diane Griffith, Staff Writer, myOptumHealth
Your last child has just gone off to college. Do you find yourself sifting through photo albums – teary-eyed – remembering his first day of kindergarten? Or have you already turned his room into a new home office?
People experience “empty nest syndrome” in different ways. For some it’s traumatic, while for others it’s a chance to reconnect with a spouse and pursue interests that they never had time for.
The lonely nester
Many parents – most often women – are downright grief-stricken when their last child moves out. When you have viewed motherhood as your role in life, you may feel that your job is done. You may wonder who you are and where you will go from here.
You may react emotionally when your child leaves home if you:
- Have an unstable marriage
- Have always had trouble separating from your children, such as on their first day of kindergarten
- Stayed at home with your kids instead of working outside the home
- Are going through menopause, a divorce, a job loss, retirement, the death of a spouse or another stressful situation
If you feel you need help coping and are doing any of the following, talk to your doctor:
- Feeling sad or depressed
- Sitting in your child’s old room to feel closer to him
- Feeling you have too much time on your hands
- Feeling that you are no longer useful
Some sadness is normal when your child moves on to her own life. But you can move on, too. You can look at this phase of your life as a chance to do all those things you wanted to, but never had time for.
Not everyone equates an empty nest with an empty life. Some parents might begin a new career or start a new business. They may redecorate their child’s bedroom and turn it into a study. Many see these times as the best years of their lives. For some, the whole idea of empty nest syndrome is a myth.
Spend the time you used to devote to your children doing something you enjoy. This might include:
- Taking classes
- Working on that novel you always meant to write
- Considering a career change
- Reconnecting with friends and relatives
- Spending more time on hobbies
- Taking that dream vacation
Is the nest really empty?
In today’s job market, it’s often hard for grown children to make it on their own. After graduation, many kids return home because the economy is tough and they can’t afford an apartment.
While they’re away, modern technology makes staying in touch easier than ever. Whether you call your child’s cell phone, send a text message, communicate by e-mail or use a web cam to reach out over a distance, getting in touch can often be done in seconds.
Renewing your marriage
Marriages can flourish or deteriorate once children leave the nest. Some couples realize that they’ve grown apart and don’t know how to reconnect. If this happens in your marriage, seek counseling.
The good news? Many couples renew the romance in their marriage as they rediscover the qualities that first attracted them to one another. They often see the empty nest not as an ending, but as a new chapter in their lives.
- American Psychological Association. An empty nest can promote freedom, improved relationships. Accessed: 02/17/2010
- Utah State University. Empty nest syndrome. Accessed: 02/17/2010
- Arp DH, Arp CS, Stanley SM, Markman HJ and Blumberg SL. Fighting for Your Empty Nest Marriage: Reinventing Your Relationship When the Kids Leave Home. San Francisco, California. Jossey-Bass; 2000.
- Harvard University. Midlife crisis disappears. Accessed: 02/12/2010