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The “Empty Nest”

By Regina Duarte

The time has come for your last young adult child to launch, taking the long awaited plunge into an adult-like assemblance.  Whether it be moving into a college campus atmosphere, getting married, or sharing a space in the city with friends, the deal has been to grow up and move out.  We all know it is part of life’s journey, yet when the day comes, we are rarely prepared for the reality of an “Empty Nest.”  The term “Empty Nest” is defined by Dictionary.com as a household in which one or more parents live after the children have left home.  “Empty Nest Blues” or “Empty Nest Syndrome” is a form of grief experienced by parents when children leave home and an unexpected sense of loss develops.   It is not unusual for parents or even young adult children to experience confusion, loneliness, anxiety and/or depression around this transitional period of time.  After all, as parents, our identity has been wrapped up in the role of mother, father and/or family.  We may have spent countless hours dedicated to the needs of our children, even though we may have been steadily employed; our parental considerations are managed alongside employment demands.  Our plates are full, to a point of feeling appreciative of a temporary routine providing momentary peace of mind. 

Before we can smoothly move into building a new identity or picking up from where we last left off, regarding life without children, grieving the loss is essential.  It does not mean our lives have to stop in order to shed tears. Experiencing, acknowledging, and reflecting on our emotions concerning who we have been as parents and who we might want to become during the next stage of life can be helpful.  

Although every family is different, in general, parents invest not only financially in their children’s development, but personal interests are sacrificed while raising children.  Perhaps, we have forgotten about certain hobbies that were once of interest or friendships were put on the back burner.  Maybe we always wanted to go back to school or open a small business in town.  The next chapter of life is an opportunity to re-awaken parts of ourselves put on hold while raising children.  At the same time, if we have not invested energy into pondering the parenthood years, it may be challenging and trying to advance.   

As one learns to embrace this remodeling, the following points may serve as reminders of what is possible and probable. 

  1. Be gentle with yourself.  Allow for emotional flexibility while letting go of the “SHOULDS.”  There is no perfection in feelings.  Sit, cry, stare, loose associate, write, take a nap or do/don’t do something out of the ordinary. 
  2. Listen to your loneliness and care for this part of yourself.  Call an old friend or relative, someone you have been thinking about for a while, or get in touch with other people going through a similar situation.  Surf the internet, and let go of those worries that someone will find out that you are surfing the net.  Get a pet (helpful for caregivers as well), small dog, kitty, fish, birds.  Grow a flower or plant a garden.
  3. Spend some money on yourself.  What would you like to buy for yourself, but have not considered for a very long time. 
  4. Your spouse!  What haven’t you talked about since children have been the focus? 
  5. Call your adult children, send them a card through snail mail, shoot a text out to friends and family that is filled with emoji’s. 
  6. Re-evaluate your job satisfaction.  What is your passion?  The hour has arrived for alternative possibilities, based on WANT. 
  7. Continue living your life. Talk with a counselor if you are needing an objective perspective.
  8. Plan a vacation, a few days or many days.  You pick. 
  9. Give yourself time, time, time.  There is no perfect plan.  Life is hard and times are changing.  Adult children may launch, return home, and once again attempt the break.  The point is to keep moving forward, knowing growth has already taken place with the first move out of the home.  Stay away from judging yourself.

Finally, this article was written for the essential purpose of addressing the topic of Empty Nest Blues, and does not bring to light special circumstances specific to each person and/or family. 

It may be appropriate and well-founded to seek a counselor skilled in working with people struggling with the Empty Nest Syndrome.

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