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Dealing with the Empty Nest Syndrome

Time flies, doesn’t it? One minute you were busy changing diapers, the next you’re attending your child’s high school graduation party. Just yesterday, you were picking the best toy on the shelf, today you’re shopping for the home your son or daughter will move into. You still remember the time when the opposite sex had cooties, but now the apple of your eye is dating like there’s no tomorrow. Soon he or she will be married. Have children. Possibly raise a family in another state.

The time when children finally grow up and leave the nest is a time of mixed emotions for parents. On one hand you’re happy that your child is comfortable with independence --- this means you did your job as a parent well! But on the other hand, it’s depressing to let go of someone who used to need your presence 24/7. True, no one is really saying goodbye, but loss can still be felt and it’s excruciating. Who would you cook breakfast for now? Who would you call when the plumbing needs fixing or the curtains need re-arranging? Who would you nag to get a job or go on a diet? The house can be deafeningly silent.           

If you’re a parent dealing with the empty nest syndrome that is, that feeling of loneliness and despair that comes when an adult child leaves his or her parents’ home then consider the following tips:           

Accept that it’s a normal stage of family life. Anxiety comes when the empty nest stage is viewed as the world taking your kids away. The reality is: it’s an expected part of the family cycle. You knew from the very beginning your children will not be with you forever.

Instead of looking at it as a loss, consider the empty nest stage as the welcoming of something new. You may not be able to attend to your child’s every sigh and tremor anymore, but you can look forward to seeing your child realize career goals, taking care of your grandchildren, and being the one your kids take care of for a change. There are pay-offs to this new stage --- you just need to open your mind to the new adventure!           

Rediscover yourself. If you’re like most parents, you’ve temporarily set aside many dreams and hobbies in order to devote adequate time to your children. Well, now is the time to re-visit those abandoned plans and dormant interests. Join your local community center; enroll in a course related to that career you put on hold. Contact friends that you haven’t seen in years. Or simply go out on vacation for an extended “me” time. It may not be a coincidence that the empty nest period is also the time parents hit midlife. It’s a time to make peace with who you were, to define who you are, and to visualize who you want to be in the future.           

Rekindle the fire in your marriage. Aside from getting re-acquainted with yourself, the empty nest stage is also the time for you and your spouse to start re-stoking the fire of romance. For so long your attention has been on the family as a unit; maybe you and your partner have forgotten how to be a couple. (Indeed, what will you say to each other now that there are no distractions in the home?) It’s time to date again, get to know one another in more intimate ways, and plan how you both want to spend retirement. Who said only younger couples have all the fun?           

Find new ways to maintain closeness with your kids. Just because they’re away doesn’t mean you can’t parent them anymore. And just because they now hold driver’s licenses doesn’t mean they will not need your help every now and then. In fact, it’s likely that your kids are as anxious as you are in navigating what lies ahead. Start thinking of new ways you can maintain a positive connection with your kids. Monthly dinners, chats over the net and regular consultations about various life issues can still be calendared to make sure you and your children remain close.

Lastly, watch out for signs of depression. Empty nest syndrome, if left unmanaged, can progress to clinical depression, anxiety and other related mental health concerns. If you feel that you’re grieving the separation from your adult child more than what may be considered as normal, it’s best to consult a mental health professional. Counseling is an excellent way to get in touch with the feelings associated with empty nest. Joining a support group has also been known to help. If you can tap into your inherent coping resources, such as your optimism or your natural ability to find meaning in adversity, then you’ll be able to breeze through the empty nest stage like a seasoned pro.

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