If your last child is getting ready to leave the nest, or he or she has already moved out, you might find yourself at a crossroads of emotions. Empty nest syndrome doesn’t affect every parent; one parent might endure a sense of loss while the other might find an empty house liberating.
It’s common for parents to feel emotionally unprepared when their child leaves the home, having regrets about missed opportunities in his or her life, feeling vulnerable without other things to focus on, or experiencing grief and mourning. Although not a clinical diagnosis, this condition affects the quality of life of the person who is battling it, as well as those closest to him or her.
Do you find yourself thinking or worrying about empty nest syndrome? Sierra Tucson’s Chief Operations Officer Jaime Vinck, MC, LPC, NCC, CEIP, sheds light on why men and women experience empty nest syndrome and what can done about it.
Q: What is empty nest syndrome?
JV: Empty nest syndrome is a normal developmental experience where children leave their family home for college, marriage, career, etc. This often becomes a challenge for couples, as they must redefine their relationship in ways other than as parents or reproducers. For many people, this also occurs when their parents are ill or dying, thus creating another void in the nest.
The nest often empties at the same time that careers have maxed out and retirement becomes a reality. This creates a need for another redefinition of self, and could mean a change in lifestyle, the selling of a family home, and a tightening of the belt financially.
Q: How does one overcome empty nest syndrome?
JV: I prefer to think of re-feathering a nest rather than it being empty. This season of life is about celebrating accomplishments of one’s past and accepting his or her adult children as they become their own independent beings. Nests can be re-feathered with a spousal relationship that does not revolve around the rearing of children. It’s also a time for enriched relationships with siblings, friends, and colleagues (running out the door every night at 5 p.m. for a soccer game is a thing of the past). It can also be a time for new passions, dusting off an old hobby, and self-care.
Taking care of yourself is essential when re-feathering your nest. This includes keeping up with your physical and mental health. This can be as simple as making all of your dental and vision appointments to taking up yoga, meditating, and journaling. Time is another important element of the re-feathered nest. While you find more time on your hands, use it wisely and celebrate the present rather than longing for what once was.
Q: Why is it important to redefine ourselves?
JV: I like to think of it as becoming reconnected with oneself beyond the role of spouse and parent. Depression often kicks in because the empty nest triggers a loss of identity and the feeling of being needed. Take this as an opportunity to do something you’ve always wanted to do, whether it’s going back to college, getting back into the workforce, or taking those archery classes you never had time for. Volunteering is also a great outlet that allows you to continue caring for others in a way that is interesting, fulfilling, and familiar.
This season of life should be a time to embrace who you are and to celebrate the wisdom that has been gained. Learn to enjoy your new surroundings and newfound self, knowing that you have earned this stage in life through decades of selfless efforts.