Technically, the term “empty nest” would imply that all the children have left the family home. Empty nest syndrome can set in much earlier than that, however. Parents can feel a great sense of loss with each and every child who leaves home for college. In fact, the first time a child leaves can be particularly traumatic.
So, whether it’s kid #1 moving out, or the last “baby” of the family, here are 7 suggestions of things you can do to cope:
1. Make sure your kids have basic life skills before they leave
Part of the anxiety of empty nest syndrome is because parents fear their children aren’t ready for the big wide world. This is quite natural; you’ve been their primary caregivers and guardians for all of their eighteen or more years.
This worry, however, can be greatly reduced by going over everything they could possibly experience to make sure they know how to handle each situation. Assume nothing. You might think it was covered in school, but check anyway, even if it’s only for your own peace of mind.
- Personal finances. Can your child balance a checkbook, write a budget, and schedule billpaying?
- Essential documents. Financial advisors recommend that parents have three legal documents prepared for children who have turned 18: a durable power of attorney, a medical power of attorney and a HIPAA release.
- Food preparation. Can they cook a few basic meals if they can’t get to the cafeteria?
- Do they know how to use a washer and a dryer and iron their clothes?
- Personal security. Do they know how to take basic precautions to secure their living space, vehicle and personal property? And how to avoid dangerous situations?
- Basic auto maintenance. If they have their own car, can they change a flat tire and use jumper cables if their battery is flat? Do they have a membership for emergency roadside assistance?
2. Set up good distance communications
Even though you’re careful to give your child space and not be a helicopter parent, you’re still going to want to be able to speak with them regularly. Just knowing that you have the means and routines predetermined will be a load off your mind. How are you going to regularly communicate, and what agreed times will you keep? You’ll also want backup plans in place for how you can you get in contact with each other quickly in an emergency.
3. Talk with others who’ve been through empty nest syndrome
Our anxieties are always worse when we feel that we’re alone in the situation. If you can talk with someone who’s been there before you, you’ll quickly discover that what you’re going through is not unique, and it’s a great comfort to realize how many others have gotten through it before you.
4. Avoid making big changes too soon
It’s amazing how many new empty nesters are tempted to try to adjust to their new life by changing things up. Perhaps the pain of walking past a child’s empty room gets you thinking about redecorating, or even selling your house and moving. It’s almost always a mistake to make such decisions while you’re still in a period of adjustment. Give yourself some time, or you may end up with regrets.
5. Reconnect with your partner
One of the wonderful benefits of an emptier nest is the opportunity for mom and dad to get back some of their pre-parenting freedoms. You can have more time for each other again. For single parents, it might mean the opportunity for a more active social life; to get out and mingle and make some new friends.
6. Be more active
A very sedentary life can turn natural feelings of loss into depression. To avoid this, get out of the house and exercise regularly. You might choose walking, running, hiking or dancing, and combining it with a healthier diet can get you feeling better about yourself and more positive about this new stage of life.
7. Get busy with some new interests
With a little more time for yourself now, you can rediscover an old passion. Or perhaps take up a whole new hobby that you’ve always wanted to try. Maybe it’s time to write that book, or take a trip. New interests can take your mind off dwelling on what you feel you’ve “lost”, and open up a whole world of fun and purpose.
Empty nest syndrome can be rough for a little while, but it doesn’t have to be life-controlling. This too shall pass, and an exciting new chapter lays just around the corner.