Empty nest syndrome: How to adjust when your child leaves home

When children leave the nest, parents may find that they're left feeling empty and worried about their future. Find out what some of these changes can mean for you and how you can embrace this new phase.

Naturally, raising your children can consume all of your time and energy. For many years your children will be your primary focus, meaning you won't necessarily prioritise yourself and what you enjoy doing.

Eventually, they’ll grow up and fly the nest. When this happens, it’s common to feel like there's an empty hole left in your life - many parents experience these feelings of loss and sadness. Although empty nest syndrome isn't a medically coined term, it refers to the emotions you go through when your children leave home. This could be if they’ve left home for university, or they’ve decided they’re ready to leave home as a young adult. 

When you have adult children who have left home, the extra time you have on your hands can be a little overwhelming and leave you with a loss of purpose. It's essential to recognise that the mixed emotions you go through are completely normal, and if you feel yourself struggling, you should reach out and speak to someone.

This can be a difficult time for you and you may experience empty nest syndrome without realising it, especially if your child has been living at home for their whole life. We've put together a few tips to help you begin to fill your time and start focusing on yourself again.

Reconnect with yourself

Being a parent demands so much of your time and can take up a considerable amount of your identity. When your children grow older and learn to rely on you a little less, this is an opportunity to reconnect with yourself and regain a sense of your self-identity. The time spent helping with homework, preparing meals, or taking them to football, for example, can become time you now dedicate to pursuing an old hobby or interest you may not have had time for before.

Staying at home might be tempting, but this can make you feel sad and alone. Instead, you can pick up activities you set aside when you had your children and rekindle your passions. This will help you rediscover your sense of self and will help you fill your extra time with meaningful hobbies. If you're struggling with feelings of loneliness, getting involved in a group hobby and surrounding yourself with people with similar interests can also help you focus on your passions.

Reconnect with your partner

Similar to reconnecting with yourself, you'll have time to reconnect with your partner or other people in your life once your children leave. Some couples separate when their children fly the nest, having found they have little in common anymore. Instead of focusing on the gap in both your lives, this is an opportunity to touch base with your shared interests and start enjoying these again. 

If you find you've lost interest in the things you and your partner used to do together before, experiment and find something new that you both enjoy and that involves spending time with each other. You don't have to love the activity to start with, but as long as you're willing to give it a go, this can help rebuild your relationship and rekindle the romance between you.

This could involve doing a cooking class together or making the effort to watch a film once a week, either at home or at the cinema. It doesn’t have to be a huge break in routine; you could have a board game night or an at-home spa night every once in a while. Have a think about what you both enjoy and see if you can find an activity that suits you.

Resist the temptation to check in too much

Although checking in with your children might provide you with comfort, it can also make you feel lonely. Frequent phone calls can remind you that your children are doing just fine without you, which may enhance the loss of your sense of purpose. 

Checking in too much can also make you worry about all the little things your children may be struggling with. Whilst it's completely okay to still be involved with helping your children with their problems, letting them figure out things for themselves without your help is key to their development and navigating the world as independent adults.

Push yourself and find some new challenges

Setting some new challenges for yourself can help to distract you from feeling like you have too much spare time and little purpose. Within the first 6 months after your child has left home, try to avoid anything too drastically life-changing and give yourself time to process your child moving out, so you don't become too overwhelmed by change.

Whether it’s a professional or a personal challenge, trying something out of your comfort zone will give you something to focus on. Perhaps you've wanted a career change but couldn't risk it when your children were younger. If you've always wanted to renovate your home or volunteer for a charity, this might be an excellent time to get stuck in. Directing your focus towards something that you can achieve will help give you purpose and something to work towards.

Get support from the people around you

When your children leave, it’s important to recognise that there have been changes and that things won't be the way they used to be. This isn’t necessarily bad; it's just part of life.

If you're struggling with the change, reach out to the people around you to get some extra support. Talking about your feelings and what you're going through can help you understand and process the situation. The people around you may also offer you a different perspective on what you're going through and give you a little bit of release.

If feelings of loneliness begin to affect your everyday tasks, or you think you may have symptoms of depression or anxiety, it's worth reaching out to a professional to help you get through this stage in your life and to support your mental health.

Final thoughts from Kami

It's normal to feel a sense of loss when your children leave home. Instead of focusing on how things used to be, try and use the extra time to work on yourself and start writing an exciting new chapter in your life. Lean on the people around you and know you've raised strong, independent children who'll always be a big part of you, no matter where they go next.

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