Five Surefire Ways Empty Nesters Can Survive and Thrive
Parents often look forward to the day their children assert their independence and leave home, but for many parents, that anticipation is met with a surprising reality and complex challenge. Empty Nest Syndrome, a legitimate psychological phenomenon, may leave some parents with feelings of depression, guilt, or an immense sense of loss.
“There’s a disconnect between what parents often anticipate, and the intensity of feelings that parents feel when they are left behind in an empty nest,” said Dr. Ronald Mah, a licensed marriage and family therapist in San Leandro, CA. “To reinvent and adapt to a new lifestyle can be a complex transition that can overwhelm parents and lead to some mental health challenges. One may be surprised that so much more than just time and energy is invested in the logistics of parenting children. There also can be a significant amount of one’s sense of self invested in the identity of being a parent. A parent may ask ‘What am I to do now?’ The answer for years had been ‘do for the kids.’ This often leads to the next question of ‘What am I... now?’”
Here are five tips to help empty nesters cope with this new life stage:
- 1. Proactive Planning: Proactively begin planning for an empty nest. Often, an empty nest does not happen overnight. It is a transition—a necessary and healthy transition of successful parenting. Parents can anticipate their children leaving home. Begin to talk to your partner about what life after children looks like to one another. If you’re a single parent, think about what you expect from empty nest life and how you can turn it into a positive time. Anticipate ways you can make this new phase in your life a time to rejuvenate and rebalance your primary focus on your children’s needs to now include personal needs.
- 2. Communicate: Find ways to express and communicate what you are feeling. Reach out to your partner or friends and family who have experienced an empty or an emptying nest. Avoid seeking help or counsel from your children. Let them experience their new adventures without feeling a need to caretake your emotional well-being. Journaling is very helpful as you go through this transition. Therapy also helps. CounselingCalifornia.com is a free resource to help you get connected to a local therapist who has helped others through this and other challenges.
- 3. Schedule Social Time: Balance your new schedule with social outings. Enjoy time with friends over a cup of coffee or a walk around the neighborhood. Plan regular date nights with your partner. Withdrawal may be a coping mechanism, particularly for men, so seek out and plan fun, adventurous activities that you can do as a couple, with friends, and alone.
- 4. Find Value in New Activities: This is an opportunity for you to do things you’ve always wanted. Plan a dream vacation. Volunteer. Take a dance lesson. Establish new friendships. Find excitement in all of these new activities.
- 5. Embrace the Alone Time: Rediscover what makes you happy or fulfilled and embrace the time alone. Use this transition as a time of self-discovery. It is really okay to put yourself at the top of the list after all these years!
“We all experience and handle transitions differently. These tips provide a healthy start to help parents (now suddenly less encumbered and more independent adults for the first time in literally decades!) continue to survive and thrive in the wake of an empty nest ... and move forward into the next personal and family adventures. The kids are starting to grow up, and so must you!” concludes Mah.