An empty nest – what next?

When the chicks have flown - It's normal to be sad about an "empty nest"

Empty nesting can cause depression

There comes a time in most parents' lives when the home that once seemed too small to hold all the laughter, tears, fun, fights, "firsts," and attacks of teenage drama suddenly feels like an empty shell. We're talking about the time when your last child moves out for college, a job, or a "nest" of his or her own.

The common name for the feelings that can hit parents when this happens is "Empty nest syndrome." And it's a very real thing. Psychology Today says: "Empty Nest Syndrome refers to feelings of depression, sadness, and/or grief experienced by parents and caregivers after children come of age and leave their childhood homes. Women are more likely than men to be affected; often, when the nest is emptying, mothers are going through other significant life events as well, such as menopause or caring for elderly parents. Yet this doesn't mean that men are completely immune to Empty Nest Syndrome. Men can experience similar feelings of loss regarding the departure of their children."

But the good news is, the feelings will pass, just as the sadness eventually passed when you left your own home for the first time.

And until then, there things that can make the change a little easier. If you have good relationships with your children, you'll all feel better faster. There's a good chance you'll find yourself in a little more of a "peer" relationship with your children, but this opens a door to all kinds of new ways to enjoy each other's company.

Here are some ways to cope:

  • Remember all those "I wish I had time to ... " moments? Now you have the time! Taking up new hobbies, getting back to old ones, making new friends or reconnecting with friends you've meant to track down, starting a new career, taking some new classes or even college for yourself - now you can do them all and discover an entire new life while you're at it. Better yet, if you start planning for these things and developing new relationships before the kids leave, you'll have a better defense.
  • Along the same lines, make plans for the space you always wish you had. A sewing room, art studio, reading, or media room
  • let your mind run wild!
  • Pets make very good company. How about adopting a shelter dog or cat?
  • Make plans with the family before everyone leaves. Take those vacations, make time for those long talks and enjoying each others' company. That way you'll have more happy things to remember. Regrets about time not taken can make the sadness at an empty nest much worse.
  • Be kind to yourself. Do nice things for yourself, even if they're just little things like special food, an extra meal out, or an afternoon nap with a good book.
  • Don't forget that exercise can help here too, as it does with most everything!
  • Be aware that some things are perfectly normal to find yourself doing, at least for a little while. Sitting in your child's room and having a cry is just fine; after all, you really do have something to be a bit sad about.
  • Finally, if you find yourself feeling happy about finally being alone with your spouse, don't feel like a bad parent. Instead, feel good about being in a happy, healthy relationship!

When to look for help

Ask anyone who's watched the babies fly, and you'll hear that life does get better again. However, there are times when sadness can get worse and become depression. Signs include:

  • Feeling like your useful life has ended
  • Crying far too much
  • long periods every day
  • Being so sad you don't want to see friends or go to work

If you feel any of these things for longer than a week, ask your doctor if he or she knows a good counselor. You want to be in good shape for your child's first visit home, after all.

Having your children leave home is a big event. But it's a normal and natural part of life, and the healthier you can be through this phase, the more you'll see that one ending really is a new beginning. Here's to your health!

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