Empty nest syndrome is a feeling of grief and loneliness parents may feel when their children leave home for the first time, such as to live on their own or to attend a college or university. It is not a clinical condition.
Since young adults moving out from their families house is generally a normal and healthy event, the symptoms of empty nest syndrome often go unrecognized. This can result in depression and a loss of purpose for parents, since the departure of their children from "the nest" leads to adjustments in parents' lives.
Full-time parents (stay-at-home mothers or fathers) may be especially vulnerable to empty nest syndrome. Adults who are also dealing with other stressful life events such as menopause, the death of a spouse, moving away or retirement are also more likely to experience the syndrome.
What's the impact of empty nest syndrome?
In the past, research suggested that parents dealing with empty nest syndrome experienced a profound sense of loss that might make them vulnerable to depression, alcoholism, identity crisis and marital conflicts.
However, recent studies suggest that an empty nest might reduce work and family conflicts, and can provide parents with many other benefits. When the last child leaves home, parents have a new opportunity to reconnect with each other, improve the quality of their marriage and rekindle interests for which they previously might not have had time.
Coping with Empty nest Syndrome
One of the easiest ways for parents to cope with empty nest syndrome is to keep in contact with their children. Technological developments such as cell phones, text messaging, and the internet all allow for increased communication between parents and their children.
Parents going through empty nest syndrome can ease their stress by pursuing their own hobbies and interests in their increased spare time.
Discussing their grief with each other, friends, families, or professionals may help them.
Experts have advised that overwhelmed parents keep a journal, or go back to work if they were full-time parents.
When a child's departure unleashes overwhelming sadness, treatment is recommended. Discuss your feelings with your general practitioner as soon as possible. You may benefit from psychotherapy to better understand and manage your feelings, and medication may also help mitigate symptoms of depression than can arise during this period.
Social support can be incredibly helpful during times of stress and loneliness, and self-care should be made a priority during difficult transitions. There are practical things you can do to prepare for or manage the transition of children leaving the home. For example, time and energy that you directed toward your child can now be spent on different areas of your life. This might be an opportune time to explore or return to hobbies, leisure activities, or career pursuits.
This also marks a time to adjust to your new role in your child's life as well as changes in your identity as a parent. Your relationship with your child may become more peer-like, and while you may have to give your child more privacy, you can have more privacy for yourself as well.
Many suggest preparing for an empty nest while your children are still living with you. Develop friendships, hobbies, career, and educational opportunities.
Make plans with the family while everyone is still under the same roof, such as family vacations, long talks, and taking time off from work to make special memories.
Also, make specific plans for the extra money, time, and space that will become available when children are no longer dependent on you and living at home.
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