It’s the time of year when kids across the country are packing up to head off for their first year of college. Or maybe your youngest child is finally moving into their own apartment. It’s an exciting time for your child, but as a parent, you may have mixed emotions.
If your only child or last child is leaving home, you may experience something called empty nest syndrome. Empty nest syndrome is a common experience of sadness or emptiness that some parents have when their children leave home.
While not all parents react the same way, there are some parents who may be at a higher risk for developing this syndrome:
So what can you do to make this transition easier? Preparing for an empty nest ideally starts when your kids are young. Working to find a healthy balance in caring for your child while also caring for yourself will benefit you both. See our previous blog post, Pamper Yourself (Your Kids Will Thank You for It).
If time has snuck up on you and your child is in high school, you might want to take a step back and give them some independence. During that time you can think about what you would like to do when they move out and you have more time on your hands. Maybe you can pick up an old hobby, explore volunteer opportunities or plan that trip that has been on your bucket list. If your relationship with your spouse has drifted, making time to rekindle your relationship is another way that can help you cope. Big life changes, like moving or quitting your job, should be avoided as they can create more stress in your life at this vulnerable time.
If you’re worried about how your child will be able to cope out in the world on their own, make sure they know how to do their own laundry, manage their finances, cook and maybe run a vacuum cleaner over the rug every once in a while. If they need help in any, or all of these areas, take the time to teach them before they move out.
While this may be a hard time for you, remember moving out on their own may also be a challenging time for your child. Take care not to make them feel guilty or burden them with your sense of loss. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep in touch with your child. Staying in touch by phone, email, text or video chat will ensure them that you’re still there for them. You might want to schedule specific times for you to connect and plan to have each other’s full attention. Try to strike a balance between being intrusive and allowing your child the time they need to become comfortable with their new independence.
Although empty nest syndrome is not a clinical diagnosis, some parents can experience depression after their child moves out. If you experience excessive crying, loss of appetite or feeling that your life is no longer useful, these can be signs of depression. If you’re struggling to cope, contact your primary care physician or a mental health provider as soon as possible for help.
Whether you have difficulty during this period of your life or you’re enjoying your new-found freedom, keep in mind that many children return home. According to the Census Bureau, more than one-third of young adults 18 to 34 years old live with a parent. Student debt, high housing costs, delayed marriage and other factors mean more children return home after living away. So you may want to think twice before rushing to remodel your child’s bedroom!