Tips for Overcoming Empty Nest Syndrome

Cardinal Financial September 6, 2017 | 6 min read
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Back-to-school season isn’t just about the kids, it’s about you too.

It’s that time of year. Summer is coming to a close and the beginning of fall is fast approaching. You know what that means—across the country, school is starting. If your kid is leaving the nest and going off to college, this might be a strange time (especially if this is your oldest, youngest, or only child). You may be feeling emotions you weren’t prepared to face—emotions known as empty nest syndrome. Don’t worry, you’re not alone.

The feels

For the past 18 years, you’ve watched your kid grow. This is your baby. For them, this might feel like the natural next step, despite a combination of nervous, scared, and excited feelings they might have. But because it’s an exciting change and a new adventure, your kid isn’t going to experience the same sadness that you do. Goodbyes are already tough—now combine that with your home feeling quieter and more empty and it’s an even heavier emotion.

Psychology Today said it best: “Empty nest syndrome is not a clinical diagnosis, but rather describes a transition period in which many people experience feelings of loneliness or loss. While many parents encourage their children to become independent adults, the experience of sending children off into the world can be a painful one.”

For your college kid, this is a thrilling new chapter, and they get to experience the adjustments that come with it. They’re reaching a milestone that’s part of growing up; they’re becoming more independent like you’ve always wanted them to. For them, it’s like their life is finally starting. But you, on the other hand, are beginning to let go. Since birth, you’ve raised this human and you’ve done everything in your power to keep them safe, happy, and healthy. Now that they’re out of the house, it may feel like your role in their life is suddenly so small, like they don’t need you anymore. This feeling is especially devastating if being a parent has been your identity.

If you’ve found your identity in being a parent for the last two decades, you’re going to have to discover who you are now, as the parent of an independent young adult. This means navigating just how involved you should be in their life. How often do you check in with them? Do you wait for them to call you first? How many phone calls and texts is too many? Empty nest syndrome can increase a fear of the unknown (you go from knowing their schedule to having no idea what they’re doing every day) as well as feelings of powerlessness and uselessness. You’ll have to ask yourself these questions and decide what works best for your relationship with your college student.

Discovering who you are now also means learning about yourself. Believe it or not, you’ve changed a lot since before you became a parent. Remember all those times you complained that you couldn’t get five minutes to yourself? Well, now you’ve got time! So embrace that precious alone time and reflect. Get acquainted with today’s you—you might be surprised at how you’ve changed and the things you never knew about yourself.

How to cope

Admit to what you’re feeling—don’t try to minimize it or ignore it. Confront your empty nest syndrome. Know that it’s normal. Know that you’re not alone, that parents all over the country (and the world) experience empty nest syndrome too.

Give them space. Your kid is literally learning how to be an adult right now. How do you expect them to make their own decisions if you’re constantly checking up on them, doing everything for them, asking them if they need anything, or giving your advice and opinions? You mean well, of course, but even good intentions can have adverse effects. Right now, try to give them the tools to make their own decisions. Even though you might feel a bit purposeless, you’re helping them feel purposeful. You’re empowering them to fly. Even if they fall, they’re going to learn, and with your encouragement from afar, they’re going to get back up and fly again.

Remember that feelings of empty nest syndrome will lift a little bit every time your kid comes home for holidays and little weekend trips. Schedule those trips and don’t let them pass you by! They’ll give you something to look forward to. However, don’t live for those visits. If you do that, you’re not overcoming empty nest syndrome at all. During those long periods of time between visits, think of what you can be doing to make life more vibrant for yourself. Is there a hobby you’ve always wanted to take up but never had the time? A trip you’ve been wanting to take? Even a to-do list you just haven’t been able to conquer? Think of this time as an opportunity to accomplish goals and dreams you couldn’t before. When you view your empty nest as a positive opportunity, rather than a period of separation, those feelings of sadness, grief, and depression fade, and you get the chance to experience an exciting time alongside your college student.

Many empty nesters take on new projects around the house. This could be the spare time you’ve been waiting for! Remodel your bathroom, update your kitchen appliances, buy new living room furniture, redecorate… oh, the possibilities! You could even refinance your mortgage and get cash out to fund these home renovations. (Give us a call today and see if you qualify for a cash-out refinance!)

If your kid isn’t going off to college until next year, we’ve got a tip for you too. Make time right now to make memories. It’s important to spend time together with the whole family before your kid leaves because empty nest syndrome doesn’t just affect parents, it affects their siblings too! This is especially likely in tight-knit families. So schedule those family dinners and game nights now so that later, when it’s time to say goodbye, you feel like you made the most of your time together.

Do you have any tips that helped you overcome empty nest syndrome? Share your story with us and other empty nesters like yourself on our social media channels! We’d love to hear from you.

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