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How to Cope with Empty Nest Syndrome

Empty nest syndrome refers to the grief that many parents feel when their children move out of the home. Symptoms can include depression, grief, feelings of rejection, increased anxiety, and loss of purpose. Empty nest syndrome is not a clinical diagnosis, but it is a term used to describe the feelings associated with this major life change. Some parents may question whether they have done a good job preparing their child to live independently, and this could conflict with the feelings of pride for their child’s accomplishments.

If your child is entering the young adult phase, starting to apply to colleges, looking for an apartment, discussing options to move out of family home, etc. it may be helpful to start preparing for this new phase of your life.

A few ways to prepare and start exploring new roles before your child leaves the home include:

1) Making a list of other roles outside of being a parent. This could include roles such as: employee, volunteer, spouse, friend, etc. If you find it hard to identify other roles within your life currently, it may be useful to start with your values and then find activities that align with these values that can bring a sense of meaning and purpose.

2) Leaning on social support. A big feeling that comes up during this chapter in life is a sense of loneliness. Now is the time to embrace the social connections you have, open up about the difficult thoughts and feelings swarming around in your mind, and even reach out to others who have gone through this stage to learn what has worked best for them.

3) Redefining your identity. This may be tough, trying to reflect on who you were before you became a parent, figuring out what activities you still enjoy, and taking action towards building a life outside of the parent role. This is a time of discovery and exploration and perhaps you may learn new things about yourself that you did not realize before.

4) Learning what your young adult child needs from you now. Often, parents continue to try to meet the needs of their young adult child in the same way as when they were teenagers, or even children. This can lead to conflict as the young adult child is trying to establish independence outside of their parents. By openly communicating, not taking things personally, and taking time to connect with their current needs, parents may start to realize ways they can continue to play an active role in their life and decrease the feelings of rejection and distance.

A few book recommendations that may be helpful during this time period include:

1) How To Survive the Empty Nest Phase by Pamela Fariole

2) Healing the Empty Nester’s Grieving Heart by Dr. Alan Wolfelt

3) From Mom to Me Again by Melissa Shultz

If you are struggling with the changes associated with this new chapter of life, don’t hesitate to reach out for help from a professional. Here at 253 Therapy and Consult, we are here to help you navigate these changes. Reach out today to schedule an appointment with one of our licensed therapists or interns!

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