Although Millennial youth do not leave their home in search of independence until they are a bit older, the feelings most parents experience during this sensitive time have not changed. This experience during the middle to older adult stage of life for a parent, is what is often referred to as Empty Nest Syndrome.
Empty Nest Syndrome is used to describe parents or guardians who experience feelings of depression, sadness, and/or grief after their children grow up and leave the house. This is a time when many parents describe a sense of loss—mostly a loss of purpose or identity. Preparation for this time is essential, long before children are ready to take flight into the wide world of adulthood.
The Good Old Empty Nest Syndrome…. Now what do we do about this? One way to prepare in advance is by giving independence to your children early; this can boost feelings of pride when you see your child doing well on their own later in life – because you taught them how to do it correctly. Conversely, “helicopter” parents seem to experience more grief as their children leave, rather than pride, because they no longer have control they once wielded over their children’s lives. Regardless of one’s parenting style, the parenting role is a critical element of most parents’ identity; if it is your sole role to the exclusion of other life-affirming and valuable roles, losing this one will be difficult indeed.
Rosemary K.M. Sword, a counselor and therapist in private practice on the island of Maui, explains that we need to stop looking at our children leaving the home as a loss and start seeing that it is more of a plus for myriad different reasons. Sword illustrates the benefits of having more time, more physical energy, and greater financial gain; less house work, fewer people to attend to, and less cost in monthly utilities are additional gains or blessings.
She encourages parents to take more time to enjoy themselves. For example, enjoying more time to catch up with friends, spending more time getting healthy, starting or finishing up a project, taking walks and exercise, attending to the house and garden, or simply enjoying the solitude and the ever-so-greatly longed for silence, are all some of the eye-opening blessings of having an empty nest.
Even with all these benefits, it can be hard to adapt to such radical change, particularly when parents have poured decades of their lives into a primary role. Having healthy ways to cope is extremely important. Healthy coping starts with accepting the timing; your child is not you, so avoid comparing. Embrace the new relationship that is developing between you and your child, making sure to keep in touch with them, asking how they are doing and reassuring them you are here to help if they need you. Seek support from other loved ones when you are having difficulty; do not “guilt trip” your child for wanting to grow up and lead their own life. Seek help from a mental health provider if you feel depressed. And most importantly, stay positive, remind yourself of all that is ahead, and enjoy rediscovering yourself and your spouse, other family, friends, hobbies, and pastimes that might have lain dormant for decades.
For more information:
Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition