Facing the Empty Nest: Tips for a Healthy, Happy Transition

As a parent, your ultimate goal is to raise self-sufficient, independent children, able to navigate the world on their own.

So why is it so hard when your babies take those first steps toward independence?

According to Psychology Today, there’s a name for the feelings of sadness and loneliness that occur when your children branch out on their own, leaving their childhood home for adulthood. Empty nest syndrome describes the feelings of loss and even mourning that might occur when kids leave to go to college, move out or get married.

These feelings are completely normal and can affect men and women equally. If you have a teenager about to leave home or are dealing with the aftermath of your young adult not being around as much, read on for some coping tips.

Tips For Parents of High School Students

Depending on their plans, you probably have an idea of whether or not your children will be leaving home once they graduate high school. This is an opportunity to make the most of the time you have left with them and ensure they’re well-equipped to tackle life on their own, making the transition easier for both of you.

  • Don’t wait until senior year to look at your finances. Financial stress will only add to the potentially negative emotions you might be feeling. Take stock of the money you’ve saved to put toward their educational goals after graduation. Start researching scholarships and financial aid options now so you can plan accordingly.
  • Teach your child how to handle the basics of living on their own. They might grumble now, but they’ll be thankful they know how to do their own laundry, maintain their vehicle, budget and balance a checkbook and cook some simple meals when they’re on their own.
  • Sneak in some quality time. During their senior year, you might be overwhelmed by events leading up to graduation day. There might be college visits, senior trip committees and a variety of obligations. As much as you can, take time for some simple bonding during this year as well. It doesn’t have to be anything big – going for walks, watching a movie at home together or hanging in for a family game night are all ways to connect with your young adult and make the most of the time they’re still at home with you.
  • Focus on you. Instead of dreading an empty home, think about the personal goals you might have put on hold while raising children. Thinking about positive pursuits you can take on once you don’t have the pressures that sports practices, school events, lunch-making and more put on your schedule can help you view the upcoming change with a sense of purpose rather than sadness.

Tips for New Empty-Nesters

Depending on how involved you were in your teen’s life, not having them around can feel incredibly sad. Know that this is normal and to be expected. It’s a big life change for you and for your young adult.

  • Establish your new normal. You might need a few months or even more to simply adjust to a quieter home. After that, figure out how you want to spend your extra time. Sometimes taking on a volunteer project in your community or tackling some neglected home renovations can fill in that sense of purpose that you feel might be missing.
  • Reach out. Thankfully, technology makes it easier than ever to stay in touch with your kids through text or instant message. Don’t be offended if they don’t get back to you right away – they’re flexing their newfound sense of freedom and might react by pulling away from you a little bit. Let them know you’re there for them whenever they need you, but be grateful and yes, proud, of the strides they’re making toward true independence.
  • Let them handle their own life. For some kids, the adjustment to living on their own isn’t easy. They might have feelings of loneliness and confusion. Monitor their mental health and step in if you think there’s a real crisis, but try your best to not swoop in and rescue them at every turn. Part of becoming an adult is failing sometimes. They might end up paying a late fee because they forgot about a bill or have a falling out with a roommate. While painful at the time, this is all part of the process involved in learning how to take care of their basic needs, whether they be financial or emotional.

Acknowledge and process how you’re feeling about this huge life change. If you experience overwhelming depression or anxiety over your child leaving, talk to your primary care physician or a mental health professional about how best to cope. He or she might recommend therapy to help you sort through your feelings.

As your child blossoms into adulthood, this can be a wonderful time for you to reconnect with friends or your spouse and renew passions for hobbies that had been put aside. You’ll also start to really see how all those years of hard work raising your children have paid off as you develop a more mature relationship.

Celebrate a job well done, mom or dad, and celebrate the unique adults your children have become.

Do you have tips on surviving the empty nest phase? Share your best advice in the comments. 

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Photo credit: J.K. Califf

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