An Empty Feeling

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How to Transition Once Kids Leave the Nest

When you have children your identity often becomes consumed with being a parent. Everything you do, and even who you are, involves your kids. So what happens when your excited 18-year-old son or daughter packs up their car and heads out the door for college? It’s only natural for parents to experience a normal series of emotions, known as Empty Nest Syndrome.

“While this transition may be scary, there are new joys to be found in this next phase of life,” said Tammy Gilbert, mother of two college-age daughters.

If you are experiencing Empty Nest Syndrome, here are a few tips to help you transition and live life to the fullest.

Tip 1: Redefine your purpose.
It is not uncommon for parents who are experiencing Empty
Nest Syndrome to feel a loss of identity. In an article titled
“How to Overcome Empty Nest Syndrome” in Psychology Today, psychologist Guy Winch, Ph.D., wrote:

“Parents often struggle with a profound sense of loss, not just because they miss their child, but because their very identities have been significantly impacted.”

To help move on from this huge transition in life, it is helpful to redefine your purpose. Although your children still need you, they don’t need you in the same way. “It’s hard, but you just have to let them go,” said Melody Key, insurance agent at Croft Senior Services. “They have their own life to live.”

It may be helpful to make a list that defines who you are:
wife, mother, daughter, sister, volunteer, etc. Take a moment to list your qualities: encourager, thinker, funny, honest, supportive, etc. Then, see if you can form a redefined purpose. For example, if you enjoy volunteering and know you are an encourager, maybe you can find an organization where you can volunteer your time encouraging young mothers.

Tip 2: Stay physically and mentally active.
Key says she tries to be more active now since her children left home. She enjoys getting outside doing yard work and taking walks.

Is it a beautiful day outside? Find a shady park bench and enjoy a good book, or soak up the sun swimming at a community pool.

Getting involved in your community is another great way to stay active, lend a hand and meet new people. Communities typically have lots of involvement opportunities. Check with Lynchburg Parks and Recreation to see what classes they offer. Also, organizations such as Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Virginia and Habitat for Humanity are always looking for volunteers.

Tip 3: Utilize technology.
If your kids move far away, the great thing about living in the 21st Century is that technology helps us stay connected. Try to set up times to chat on Facebook, Skype or FaceTime. Even a quick email in the morning wishing your child a good day will help you feel closer.

“When our youngest daughter left for college, we had just lost our 12-year-old dog as well, which made the silence and loss of activity in the house even more pronounced,” Gilbert said. “It was hard to walk by their empty bedrooms and not see them every day. FaceTime became a great way to keep in touch. We looked forward to hearing all about their new experiences.”

Tip 4: Rekindle romance and friendships.
No one can deny that having children takes time. When they leave home, start reconnecting with old friends and, if you are married, spend more time with your spouse. As explained in an article by Mayo Clinic, “When the last child leaves home, parents have a new opportunity to reconnect with each other, improve the quality of their marriage and rekindle interests for which they previously might not have had time.”

Book that trip you and your spouse have always dreamed of taking, or buy that hot tub you have always wanted.

“My advice would be to embrace this next chapter of your life,” Gilbert said. “Enjoy watching your children become more independent, while you relax, watch Netflix and order takeout! Take on projects that have been put off and travel more often. Enjoy your time together as a couple.”

Tip 5: Find a new hobby.
Is there a hobby you have always wished you had time for? Now is the time.

Whether you have always wanted to take up painting, woodworking, cooking, playing the piano (you name it!), try to learn something new.

In his article, Winch explained that with any loss, you cannot simply adjust by getting used to the change. He says it is “essential to replace meaningful aspects of our lives in one way or the other when we lose them… We therefore need to identify possible new roles and interests to explore and we must consider existing ones we might be able to expand.”

Although Empty Nest Syndrome is not technically a clinical diagnosis, it does not mean parents cannot feel a strong sense of emotions—even loss. So if you are feeling a little blue this fall, it might be time to build that model ship.

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