Well, here you are: The last kiddo has left home and you’re feeling pretty blue. Maybe you’re worrying all the time. You’re probably a little lonesome (or a lot). You may feel like it, but you are not alone.
The Empty Nest Is Actually Full—of Emotions
According to GoodTherapy.org, empty nesters may experience insomnia, anxiety and/or panic—as well as feelings of extreme grief, isolation/loneliness, guilt and purposelessness. They may even lose interest in activities they once enjoyed. Psychology Today notes that “…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.” In other words, if your parenting role has changed so dramatically, who are you?
In two-parent families, empty nest syndrome is at least a team experience—one partner can offer support and empathy when the other is struggling. For divorced, widowed or single parents, however, there may unfortunately be an even greater sense of isolation and loneliness.
If you are struggling with empty nest syndrome, the good news is you are not alone. Most parents experience at least some of these feelings in varying degrees. Here are five suggestions for coping with empty nest syndrome and finding your groove again.
Five Ways to Cope with Empty Nest Syndrome
1. Participate in Activities That Include Others.
Whether you’re an introvert or extrovert, we all need friends. If you’re already involved in a community group, don’t stop now! If you’ve been too busy, go ahead and sign up for those art classes, start a band, look into university extension programs, or join a new class at the gym. The excitement and energy of taking up a new hobby or learning something new is a real balm for feelings of loss, and being around other people can help stave off social isolation.
2. Find New Ways to Feel Valued and Needed.
One of the rewards of parenting is the feeling of being important to another person. While nothing will ever replace the love between a parent and child, you can find some fulfillment in helping others. Look for a volunteer organization that aligns with your values and sign up! Offer to read books at a nearby school, or hold babies in the NICU at your local hospital. Sign up to work at a local food bank or community garden. Or use your skills to help others—knit blankets for hospital patients, teach home repair skills… the possibilities are as endless as your imagination.
3. Embrace a New Adventure.
If your time and budget allow it, why not enjoy all that traveling you put off during the busy parenting years? Some empty nesters even decide to sell their homes and travel full-time! While that might not be the right choice for you, having a trip to plan and look forward to (and then enjoy) can be very therapeutic.
4. Embark On an Encore Career.
If you’ve reached retirement age, becoming an empty nester might inspire you to re-enter the working world. Encore careers can take on many forms — a coaching or consultative role in your former industry, professionalizing one of your skills (such as giving art lessons), or even joining the staff at a nonprofit. These “second-act” jobs can be a great way to recharge your spirits, stay engaged and extend your retirement income.
5. Discover the Benefits of Homesharing.
Sometimes an empty nest means you’ve got unused space in your home. Homesharing offers a wonderful way to put that space to work and have some company around the house. In homesharing, your renter (or “housemate” pays rent or does household chores (or a combination of the two) in exchange for living space.
Some homeowners find housemates by asking around among friends and neighbors, or by advertising in the community, online or on social media. Silvernest uses unique roommate-matching technology and other tools to make homesharing simple and worry-free. We’ve helped build happy homesharing agreements between people of similar ages or across generations.
There’s Hope Ahead.
Those “empty nest” feelings are normal and natural. While you’ll always miss having your kids around, the most intense emotions usually ease with time. However, if you find yourself too depressed or anxious to fully participate in your life as you once did, please seek out professional support. A trained therapist or, if need be, psychiatrist can help you work your way through this transition to a brighter future.
Image credit: Rebecca Siegel on Flickr