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Empty Nest Syndrome: 17 Signs and Ways to Cope with an Empty Nest

When a baby is born, it seems like an eternity until they to go to school. Then if you blink, you’ll find yourself with the empty nest syndrome.

empty nest syndrome

Or so it seems.

If you aren’t old enough to know what I mean, just wait. But for those of you who have the empty nest syndrome looming on the horizon, I’m sure you can identify.

The empty nest syndrome is a very real thing. Some parents are counting the years and days until they enter it, while others are holding on to every last second of their kids’ childhood for dear life. And the latter group sometimes endures a bit of a life crisis when the last kid leaves the nest.

Negative signs of the empty nest syndrome

As I just said, many people struggle with the reality of the empty nest syndrome. Similar to a mid-life crisis, this stage in your life can present some overwhelming challenges. Let’s take a look at some of them.

#1 You feel like your identity as a parent has been taken away. When you have a child, it’s at least 18 years of having a kid living at home. But if you have more kids, then it could be 20 or 30 years of having children at home.

Some parents build their whole identity around being a parent, so for these people, they don’t even know who they are once the kids leave home. [Read: Weird trends millenials will have to explain to their kids]

#2 You are frustrated because you don’t have control over your children’s lives anymore. You’re so used to scheduling other people’s lives, and now you can’t do that. You don’t know when they are going to parties, or when they have a date. This loss of control can be very disconcerting for some people.

#3 Worry about what to do with the rest of your life. Now what? Unless you have a fulfilling career, a good marriage, and/or lots of friends, you might wonder what will happen for the rest of your life during the empty nest phase. [Read: I feel lonely – 30 ways to overcome the feeling of loneliness]

Dangers of empty nest syndrome

Not all people struggle with the empty nest syndrome, but many do. And whether it’s 20 years in the future, or you are well into the empty nest phase of your life, here are some negative things that you might encounter when the kids leave.

#1 Depression. If your whole life revolved around your kids, then having them gone might lead to depression. It’s like a death – the ending of a part of your life. So, it will take some time to grieve. And during this process, many people are prone to depression. [Read: 5 ways volunteer work can help heal depression]

#2 Withdrawal. Depression and withdrawal are very much intertwined. The more depressed someone feels, the less likely they are to venture out and be social. People who isolate themselves will only get more sad, however.

#3 Divorce. Some couples get so wrapped up in their children that they neglected their marriage. Once the last kid is out of the house, they may look at each other and think, “Who are you?” Parents who are out of touch with one another for so long might think they can’t fix their relationship, and thus, end up getting divorced.

#4 Substance abuse. Lots of people deal with change, stress, or depression with abusing alcohol or even drugs. Let’s face it – these make the person feel good *at least for a short amount of time*. They might use it to escape, but if they do it too much, it could develop into an addiction problem. [Read: What your favorite drink says about you]

What to do about empty nest syndrome

Not all people are depressed when their children grow up, however. Some find it a time to rejoice, and to finally have time for themselves so they can do what they want to do.

While the empty nest syndrome might be unwelcome for some, for others, it’s time to have fun. Here are some things you can do during the empty nest phase so you don’t get dragged down.

#1 Prepare – mentally and physically. You don’t want to just start freaking out once your last child moves out and you take them to college. You need to mentally and physically prepare. Talk to yourself, and come to terms with the fact that your house will be free of children soon. It’s never too early to start preparing. [Read: Positive vibes – 17 ways to welcome positive energy into your life]

#2 Re-frame things. People with the empty nest syndrome can wallow in the negatives. They are so focused on missing their children that they can’t see the positives. But don’t do that! For everything you think you’ve lost, think of at least one thing that you have gained. Even if it’s just the fact that your kids aren’t messing up the house anymore!

#3 Make a new plan for the relationships with your children. Obviously, you won’t be able to see them every day like you did when they were little. But that doesn’t mean you can’t talk to them all the time.

The technological revolution has given us tools such as text, email, Skyping, and Facetime. So, use these tools to stay connected. [Read: How does it really feel when you miss someone?]

#4 Seek and accept support. Maybe there’s a group for people who are experiencing the empty nest syndrome. If so, why not join it? Or just make sure you talk about your feelings with your friends, especially if they have been through it. They can help you deal with your new life phase.

#5 Focus on your career or start a new one. If you’re getting a new start in your personal life, why not make sure that your professional one has your full attention now? Maybe start a new business if you feel like you want to. Or go for a promotion or a career change. This will easily re-focus your attention away from your empty house.

#6 Re-build your marriage, or find a new relationship *if you’re single*. If you don’t want to end up another divorce statistic, then re-discover your spouse and work on your marriage. Or maybe you’ve been a single parent all these years, so now is the time to get back out there and find another fish in the sea.

#7 Make new friends. Maybe your marriage is just fine or you don’t feel like dating *if you’re singe*, then how about making new friends? Join clubs, volunteer, or do just about anything where you can meet new people to occupy the time you have on your hands now. [Read: 12 quick tips to add more people to your social circle]

#8 Take classes. How about going finishing your college degree or going on for another one? Or if maybe you’ve always wanted to try art classes, why not consider that? The point is to keep learning. You will not be sorry because you’re working on bettering yourself.

#9 Find a new hobby. Is there something you’ve always wanted to try, but you never had the time because you were too busy raising children? Now is the time! Maybe you could take up yoga, running, reading, or woodworking. Having a new hobby is an awesome way to pass the time.

#10 Travel. If you love to travel, this is the perfect time of your life to do it. You no longer have to be around for everything your children do. You can travel the world and explore everyplace you’ve ever wanted to go.

[Read: 8 Tips to have a great time when you travel as a couple]

The empty nest syndrome is scary for a lot of people. But it doesn’t have to be. With these tips, you will be able to create a new, fulfilling life for yourself while your adult children live theirs.

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Carol Morgan LP
Dr. Carol Morgan
Dr. Carol Morgan has a Ph.D. in communication and is a professor at Wright State University where she loves corrupting young minds. As a relationship and succes...