Feeling Like You Have an Empty Nest?

1st November 2023

Feeling Like You Have an Empty Nest?

The departure of children from the nest to go to university, move into a new home or relocate because of a job, can lead to various adjustments in parents' lives. Many parents take it in their stride, enjoying the new found freedom after years of nurturing their loved ones, but for some it can mean unexpected changes in routines, a loss of purpose and difficulties in accepting the alterations.

Empty nest syndrome can bring feelings of grief and loneliness, and although not a clinical condition, it can cause depression and a loss of focus for some people. Kim Heappey, clinical lead at DRCS, looks at the symptoms, effects and some suggested coping mechanisms.

Who does it affect?
All parents are susceptible, although some factors make empty nesting syndrome more prone to occurring. An unsatisfactory marriage or relationship, a sense of self based on being a parent, or difficulty accepting change in general, can exacerbate the condition. Stay-at-home mothers or fathers may be especially vulnerable, as are adults dealing with other stressful life events such as a bereavement, moving or retirement.

Parents experiencing empty nest syndrome often question whether or not they have prepared adequately for their child to live independently away from home. Mothers are more likely than fathers to experience it, although there is research showing some fathers are emotionally unprepared for children leaving home, feeling they should have been more involved in their lives while they were under the same roof.

Symptoms and effects
Symptoms of empty nest syndrome can include:

  • Depression
  • A loss of purpose
  • A feeling of a deep void
  • Feeling lost
  • Feelings of rejection
  • Loneliness and distress
  • Worry, stress, and anxiety over the child's welfare

Coping with empty nest syndrome
The easiest ways of coping for parents is to:

  • Try to establish a different relationship with their children on a new level
  • Keep in contact with their children through phone, text and video calls, but resist the urge to check in too much
  • Reconnecting with each other - figure out what other activities you can enjoy together
  • Reconnect with yourself – find hobbies and interests in your increased spare time
  • Find new ways of filling their free time
  • Identify a new role for yourself – you won’t stop being a parent, but why not volunteer or get involved in the community activities to give you meaning and purpose and make you feel valuable
  • Find new challenges and goals
  • Discussing their grief with each other, friends, family, or professionals may help
  • Keep a journal and write down how you feel
  • Return to work

Kim added: "Empty nesters should realise that what they are feeling is normal. These initial feelings of sadness are because a phase of your life is over. It is normal to feel some loss when becoming an empty nester, but it is important to replace the meaningful experience of parenting, with other purposeful experiences. This can be tough, but most parents do adjust to their new roles and develop a new sense of normal. If you find that empty nest syndrome is getting worse or it doesn’t resolve within a couple of months, talk to a mental health professional. Your feelings of loneliness or emptiness may require treatment."

What to do now?
For further advice on seeking mental health support contact DRCS on 0800 047 6861.

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