10 Coping Tools for Becoming an Empty Nester

Coping Tools for becoming an empty nester

When your children are infants, they’re all-consuming. Every waking moment—and many of your sleeping moments—go into nurturing and caring for them. As they get older, they slowly start to gain their independence. The days of parenting are long, but the years fly by before you know it. One day, your youngest child grows up and embarks on their own journey into adulthood.

It’s a bittersweet occasion. You’ve spent nearly two decades (or longer, depending on the ages of your children) in the throw of focusing your efforts on raising them to have the best start possible in life. Once they leave, you may be left feeling like there’s a hole in your heart and your time. If you’re having a hard time adjusting to this new stage in your life, you may have what’s called empty nest syndrome.

Understanding Empty Nest Syndrome

Empty nest syndrome refers to the feeling of grief people feel when their children—especially their youngest—move out. It’s not a diagnosis, but rather a phrase to describe the loneliness and loss as parents have the life they’ve known for years turned upside down. Many parents adjust to their new living situation within a few days or weeks. However, others feel this sense of loss for far longer.

While either parent can experience this, it’s more common in women who have been a primary caregiver for their children. It can come with a range of symptoms, including:

  • Lack of Purpose: Once your children move out, you’re left with a lot of time. There are no more endless piles of laundry, handprints on the windows, or meals to prepare. Realizing that you’re no longer part of your child’s day-to-day life can leave you feeling like you no longer have a purpose, especially if you’ve been a stay-at-home parent.
  • Frustration: Once your child leaves home, you no longer have any say over their lives. You won’t know if they’re getting to work or class on time or how late they’re out with friends. Some parents feel frustrated with the sudden lack of control as their children take full control of their independence.
  • Distress: You might feel all sorts of strong emotions. You may be proud of your child’s success and independence, but you may be grieving the end of their childhood or how you spent the time you had with them. You might be thinking about growing older or what you’re going to do with yourself now. After all, being an active parent is a major part of anyone’s identity. When that disappears, it’s easy to feel worried.
  • Anxiety: You may be worried about your child’s well-being once they leave the home. Anxiety about whether they’re safe, doing what they’re supposed to, and making good choices can be overwhelming.
  • Marital Stress: During active parenthood, your children likely took center stage in your household. Making sure they’re cared for and keeping up with school and activities can be constant demands. When the children leave, there may be friction as you learn to live together again.

Coping Strategies for Parents

It’s natural to feel a sense of sadness and loss when your children leave home. Coping strategies can help you reframe the situation and accept your new reality. Learning how to cope with empty nest syndrome can often make the transition more bearable. Try implementing these tips to ease the feelings of grief and find your new groove.

1. Stay Connected—But Not TOO Connected
While your relationship with your adult children will change, you don’t have to lose contact with them. Semi-regular calls, texts, and chats can help you maintain your relationship from afar. Likewise, visits or vacations together can allow you to enjoy each other’s presence and catch up on each other’s lives.

However, don’t overstep by calling constantly or intruding on their newfound adulthood. You’ve prepared them for this for their entire life. Have faith in them, watch them thrive, and appreciate their company when you have it.

2. Look at the Positives
Gratitude goes a long way in maintaining good mental health. It’s known to reduce symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression, which you might be feeling in spades as soon as you enter the empty nest stage.

As painful as this time may be, it’s also ripe with things to be grateful for. Perhaps you’re grateful that your child is doing so well on their own. You might appreciate small things like having more time to focus on yourself or your hobbies.

3. Give Yourself Time to Grieve
It’s okay to feel sad or miss your child. As long as it doesn’t take over your life, let yourself feel all the feelings. Look at photos of them growing over the years and reminisce on the good memories.

4. Know When It’s Time to Seek Help
As much as it’s okay to grieve, it’s also important to recognize when it’s getting out of hand. If you find that you’re struggling to do day-to-day, you may need help processing your emotions. Counselors and support groups can help with this.

5. Embrace New Opportunities and Challenges
As stressful as the empty nest era of your life can be, it’s also a new opportunity. The time that feels empty now can become an opportunity to pursue hobbies and goals you set aside over the years to nurture your children.

6. Strengthen Platonic Relationships
With your children grown, you’ve got new time to focus on your interpersonal relationships. Maybe you start going on regular date nights with your spouse or you choose to reconnect with siblings or other family members. You’ve got plenty of time now to focus on rebuilding your social circle.

7. Focus on Your Marriage
On average, once children enter the marriage, couples spend 46 minutes per day alone with each other. Over the years, this can erode your relationship. You and your spouse may have fallen into routines where your marriage fell on the back burner while focusing on the children. Once they leave, you might realize that in the place of your once-vibrant relationship has rusted and you’re not sure how to live as a couple anymore.

It’s time to date and explore again like you did before you were parents. Travel to your bucket list destinations or start a new activity together. Whatever you choose, try to spend time enjoying each other’s presence and rediscover why you fell in love all those years ago.

8. Find Your New Self-Identity
It’s time to reconnect with yourself. You’ve spent years putting your children in front of yourself. Now, it’s time to emphasize your personal self-care. What do you love? What did you enjoy before having children? Take some time to self-reflect. Writing in a journal can be a huge help during this time.

It may be the right time to get back into the workforce if you left behind a career you loved. It could be the time to dive into a new one.

9. Join Clubs and Social Groups
With your new free time, you have the perfect opportunity to get into interest groups with like-minded individuals. Clubs and social gatherings for reading, crafting, cooking, and just about anything else you can think of are out there.

10. Build a Fulfilling Life Beyond Parenting
Parenting your children may be among the most fulfilling parts of your life, but there are plenty of other ways to find fulfillment. Perhaps you enjoy charitable causes and volunteering to help others. This can be fulfilling in its own way as you make a difference in other people’s lives.

If you’ve always wondered what it’s like to homestead or raise hobby livestock, like chickens, now could be the time to explore it. Everyone has something that leaves them feeling fulfilled. You just have to find your personal purpose.

Empty Nest Syndrome Doesn’t Have to Consume You

It’s normal to miss your children and grieve their childhood once they fly the nest and spread their wings. However, when that grief starts to consume every aspect of your life, it may be time to seek help.