If your youngest child has recently moved out of the family home, you’re likely experiencing a diverse range of emotions. At first, the quietness of the house might have felt refreshing – you may have relished those extra minutes spent relaxing in bed, not worrying about making lunches or signing last-minute permission slips. Although sometimes hard to admit (at least publicly), you may have even found yourself dreaming about when this day, and with it some peace and quiet, would finally come!
As time goes on, though, it is completely normal to feel sad in your child’s absence. You might miss feeling needed, or be worried about your child’s health, safety, and wellbeing while they are all on their own. You might also just miss their company! Whatever it may be, feeling down after your youngest (and often your last!) child moves out is commonly referred to as “empty nest syndrome.” Though not a clinical diagnosis, parents commonly struggle to navigate this transitional period. Despite missing them dearly, you know the importance of allowing your child to gain independence and learn valuable life-skills – and they often do this by making their own mistakes. This can be hard to stand by and watch when you could have easily given them an alternate, more effective solution. As difficult as it is to swallow your tongue in these moments, children and young adults learn by making mistakes – and we need to let them do so. So, how do you cope with these feelings of emptiness and sadness without smothering your child or putting a strain on your relationship? Here are some tips for coping with, and even making the most out of, empty nest syndrome.
Not having your child at home anymore might make you feel rudderless. Rather than dwelling on your lack of productivity, try to embrace the extra time you now have by exploring new, meaningful activities that make you feel like you’re making a difference. You might try volunteering, raising money for a good cause, or becoming more involved with your local community. The important part is to keep yourself busy and remind yourself that you are valued regardless of whether you have someone at home to take care of or child-rear, that you can contribute to society in meaningful ways, and make a real difference in peoples’ lives.
Reconnect with yourself and/or your partner
Tap into what aspects of your identity, other than parenthood, truly bring you joy and create meaning in your life. Why not dive back into an old hobby, pick up a new one, or focus on self-care? What kinds of things brought you joy before you had children? Is there something that you’ve always wanted to do or somewhere that you’ve always dreamed of going?
This could also be the perfect opportunity to spend more quality time with your partner all alone: think cheaper vacations and at-home date nights – minus the interruptions.
Resist the urge to bombard your child with check-ins
You will still, of course, worry about your kids after they’re gone. As a parent, you already know that both this fierce love and fear that you feel for your children are there to stay. The important part is to remind yourself of the valuable skills and independence that your child is honing right now. Giving them the space they need is necessary for them to grow into capable young adults, despite how badly you may want to check in on them. Remember that constantly texting or calling children can often feel very similar to micromanaging – and no one likes that feeling. It also sends the message to your child that you don’t trust their judgment – it is absolutely vital that you trust them, and that they know that you trust them. This is part of how they know that they can trust themselves – and this is incredibly important for healthy development and self-efficacy. Check in with your kids regularly and stay connected, but trust that your child will reach out to you if and when they need support because you have raised them to be competent decision-makers.
No matter how hard you work to embrace the silver lining, change is difficult – and that’s ok. If you are still struggling with it, don’t hesitate to seek support from friends, family, or a mental health professional if you need it – take advantage of your support system, and don’t forget that even caretakers need to be taken care of sometimes.