Having a family is one of life’s most tumultuous transformations. Everything changes once kids join your household, throwing your self-centered grownup life into joyous chaos. However, the flip side – when the offspring move out – can also be a jarring experience. After years of raising babies, toddlers, tweens and teens, suddenly things become quiet and calm again. Successfully launching your children into adulthood is a welcome hallmark of a job well done. But make no mistake, adjusting to an empty nest takes some time to process.
Many parents experience feelings of sadness, loneliness or worry to some degree once the kiddos depart. Some deal with more weighty emotions such as anxiety, insomnia, guilt, grief and a sense of purposelessness. After years of a busy household, juggling the responsibilities of work, child rearing and domestic duties, your home is vacant and your sense of identity is profoundly changed. You don’t just slip back into who you were before kids (that person is forever changed), but you don’t yet know who you are without them underfoot and under your roof. A recalibration and rediscovery is in order, which can be both exciting and disorienting.
Of course, nowadays grown kids don’t necessarily move out permanently right after high school or college, or even a year or two post-graduation. There is a lot of boomeranging going on, with older children rejoining the family household after some years away. The financial realities of the times means that many young adults are saddled with exorbitant college loans, low paying jobs and an unreasonable housing market, a trifecta that means their independent launch into self-sufficiency is understandably delayed. It’s not unusual for parents to help out by allowing adult children to live at home well into their twenties and beyond, which can be a both a blessing and a curse for both parties.
However, at some point, chances are your grown kids will establish their own household, perhaps couple up and have children of their own. If you are in a two-parent family, this empty nest syndrome is a team experience where both partners can support and empathize with each other’s struggles. Divorced, widowed or single parents may experience a greater sense of isolation and loneliness with this transition.
Sure, there are many benefits to finally being in a less occupied, relatively tranquil home. And there are plenty of reasons to celebrate no longer being burdened with the bustle of day-to-day family responsibilities. But brace yourself for some ups and downs as you navigate this rite of passage. It most likely coincides with reaching middle-age or senior years, a milestone that often brings its own set of physical, psychological and financial challenges.
With a positive attitude, you can embrace the change and thrive into this new stage of life. Here are some tips for coping with empty nest syndrome.
This is an obvious tip. Don’t just sit and wallow in your empty nest. Take advantage of your freedom and cultivate hobbies you might have been neglecting during the child rearing years,. Learn a new skill, such as a musical instrument, gardening or photography. Sign up for classes or clubs. Download a language app and learn some new phrases. Commit to a sport or exercise program like tennis, jogging or yoga. Keeping busy contributes to a fulfilling life.
Make sure some of your new hobbies and classes have a social element to them. This transition can be a lonely time for many empty-nesters, so lean on your existing network of pals and set a goal to make new friends. Even if you’re a quiet introvert, don’t allow yourself to become insular. Sign up for a MeetUp, get involved in a community group, join a gym, hang out at a local coffee spot. Being around other people can help stave off social isolation, which is all too prevalent in the older generations.
Keep in Touch with your Kids
Just because they’ve left home doesn’t mean they are out of your life. Keep in regular contact with your children at a schedule that is mutually agreed upon. You don’t necessarily need a daily check-up at this stage of your evolving relationship, but perhaps once a week or so is reasonable for a touch base so both parties can feel connected during this transition. Give them the freedom to grow up and make their own decisions without overstepping boundaries, but maintain a supportive friendship and close family bond.
Find Ways to Feel Valued
After years of being always available to your children’s needs and whims, the empty nest transition can feel like a deep void. While focusing on your own wants is important, try to find ways to feel needed and valued to others as well. Look into volunteer opportunities that align with your values. Help out a neighbor. Sign up for a shift at a local food bank. Join a community garden. Read to kids at a school. There are endless possibilities to enrich life’s next chapter with meaningful service.
Kick Up the Romance
It’s a sad fact that around the time kids flee the nest, a lot of divorces happen. Make a conscious effort not to become a statistic. This is the time to refocus on your relationship and do things as a couple. Set a regular date night, and put some effort into romancing each other. Pursue new activities together, like wine tasting, traveling, dancing or cooking. If you don’t have a steady partner, get on the dating apps or ask friends to set you up. Be open to a new relationship, or just have fun meeting new people.
Consider an Encore Career or Side-hustle
If retirement coincides with your empty nest, don’t feel like that’s the end of your working life. If you want, think about becoming a coach or consultant in your industry, or signing up for a non-profit. Or try your hand at a completely new field, starting out as a volunteer or part-timer before committing. Turn a soul-enriching hobby into a side-hustle. At this life stage, a “second act” job not so much about the money or career progression. It’s more about lifting your spirits, staying engaged, being social and having fun.
Plan a Vacation
Celebrate the empty nest milestone with a dream trip, or even just a weekend getaway. Go with your spouse, a friend or even by yourself. You deserve it. The planning and dreaming is half the fun, so take your time to arrange the kind of travel you want be it an active adventure, a relaxing beach getaway, a city break or an exotic destination. The opportunities are endless.
Now that the kids are finally launched, it may be time to consider the next phase of your life. Do you really need that big house with all those bedrooms anymore? You may want to hang onto the house for a few years, in case the offspring boomerang back into your fold, or perhaps you want to maintain a larger home for annual family gatherings and grandchildren visits down the road. But at some point, a downsizing is in order. So start making an inventory of things you need to keep, things you might sell, things you can donate and things you can get rid of. Start researching the kind of next-phase senior living arrangement you might want to move to in time. The earlier you know your options and start making a plan, the better. Time creeps up on all of us, and in a blink of an eye, it will be time to move.
If the empty nest transition is really getting you down, don’t hesitate to seek professional help to guide you through the process. It can be a difficult time, and can lead to depression for some. Just like you made it through other life changes, you will make it through this one too. But you don’t need to go it alone. Sometimes just talking it out and having your feelings validated can help you through the dark times.