As our children file back into class this fall, parents also return to the comfortable structure of daily routine: work days, family vacations, and our own activities planned around our childrens’ school schedules. However, there are families among us who are experiencing a total disruption of the structure that guided their lives for thirteen (or more) school years.
A house once full of activity, noise, homework, and active-duty parenting becomes eerily quiet when the last child leaves for college. This quiet, orderly home with fewer dirty dishes, less laundry to wash, and considerable more free time is often referred to as an Empty Nest.
Empty Nest Syndrome is the term used to characterize the life stage transition that parents must navigate when launching their last child from the home. An exciting time for young adults who are embarking on their first experience of independence, for parents it can be a time of confusion, worry, sadness, and loneliness. Occasionally, it can lead to a situational depression or adjustment disorder.
Our central roles of Mom and Dad are forever changed when our children become adults, leaving us questioning our own identities, the strength of our relationships, and perhaps mourning the loss of time that passed while our children were young. What makes the Empty Nest stage even more difficult, it is often accompanied by other transitions as well, such as caring for our own aging parents, downsizing, menopause, and financial concerns regarding paying for college as well as planning for our own retirement.
How to Navigate an Empty Nest:
Recognizing that we are going through a major life change is the first step in navigating the transition to Empty Nest. Being a bit kinder and gentler with ourselves, allowing time to process our emotions, and reaching out for support are all necessary steps while acclimating to this new phase of life. It is important to nurture our own relationships with our peers and intimate partners, to reignite our interests in the things we may not have had time to pursue while parenting minor children, and to plan a future for ourselves that we can be excited about. It is also a prime opportunity to establish healthy adult relationships with our newly launched children by practicing appropriate boundary setting, maintaining secure attachments, and learning together how to be friends as well as family, now that we are all adults. Our roles as Mom and Dad never end, but they do change over time demanding that our relationships continue to evolve and grow.
Children launch most successfully when they are secure in knowing that the parents they are leaving behind are happy and well. If we are taking care of ourselves through this adjustment, our children will enter the next phase of their lives without worry, fear, or guilt about leaving us to pursue their dreams.
I’m wishing you all a smooth transition into the new school year, whatever stage you are navigating at this time! For more information on building, strengthening, and healing family relationships, please visit our blog at GoodMentalHealthLLC.com.