At some point in your life as a parent, you’ll be faced with the fact that your child has grown up and wants to move out. That’s the plan, isn’t it? You became a parent not because you had this vision of always having a child at home to raise, right? Hopefully, part of your vision was seeing your child flourish and grow into an independent adult living on their own.
So if this is the vision, why is empty nest syndrome such an issue?
More importantly, how can you avoid suffering from it? How can you plan ahead so that you can happily make the transition?
To start, it’s important to recognize what empty nest syndrome is. Both men and women can suffer from it and Psychology Today defines it as “feelings of depression, sadness, and/or grief experienced by parents and caregivers after children come of age and leave their childhood homes.”
Looking at the life of a typical parent, it’s understandable that you might have these feelings. More than likely, being a parent has been a full-time job for two decades or more. This makes it hard to avoid feeling like being Mom or Dad is a major part of your identity. You may feel like you’re losing that part of yourself as your baby heads out the door. If you’re experiencing these feelings, this is a perfect opportunity to take some time for yourself and reassess the age old question:
“Who are you?”
Be willing to embrace whatever you’re feeling. You may feel sadness or grief and that’s okay. You may also feel joy and a sense of freedom. That’s okay, too. You may feel a complete rainbow of emotions during this transition. Journaling can help. Short sessions of deep breathing or meditation can also help. I also encourage you to continue tapping into your Internal Guidance System (IGS) to help process your thoughts and feelings.
If you were a stay-at-home parent, the change can be more stressful and startling than it would be for a parent who worked outside the home. You may have devoted a larger percentage of your day to day activities to caring for your children. You may have even put aside your career or hobbies in order to be there to chauffeur, chaperone, and support your child physically and emotionally.
If possible, you can set yourself up for a happier transition long before the actual expected departure date.
Start by recognizing that you’re more than your child’s parent. Start consciously adding other people into your life: choose some people who have similar interests, but aren’t the parents of your child’s friends. It’s important to make make the effort to find other adults who don’t know your child at all.
Even though you might not think you have it, carve out a block of time that is for you without your child. Use it to be with other adults whether you take a class, get back to your favorite hobby, read, explore, exercise your body, or volunteer in your community.
Carve out another block of time that’s for you and your spouse to be together as a couple. Have a date night or catch a matinee. Go for walks together. If it feels like the only thing you seem to have in common is your child, then it’s a good idea to spend the time to get to know each other again. Rediscover the man or woman you fell in love with. This is your chance to dream about the perfect vacations you can take alone together.
Place focus on your health. Move your body. Eat healthy foods that you can enjoy. Laying a healthy groundwork now will make it harder to fall prey to bad habits when your child is out of the house.
If you follow these simple steps now, you’ll have an easier transition when the time comes and your child moves out on their own. That doesn’t mean you won’t ever feel sadness or miss them. You raised a pretty awesome person, so it’s natural to miss them. By allowing yourself to have a life without your child, you’ve also given them time to explore life as an individual. Ironically, this separateness can be one of the greatest gifts you can give them and be what brings them back to visit, voluntarily and lovingly.
For more, please visit www.SharonBallantine.com.