January 24, 2014
by Casey Truffo, LMFT
Bye Bye Birdie
Whether your child has gone off to college, joined the military, or has just decided to move out and make a go of it, you are no doubt experiencing what is known as Empty Nest Syndrome. This time in your life is when your youngest child has left home (the nest) and now you are feeling alone, sad, guilty, empty, and useless. No doubt for many years you have been doing all things related to your children and your children's well-being. You have gone from changing diapers to taking your kids to preschool, to running to sporting events, music lessons, ballet, and everything in between, to watching your child walk on the podium and graduate from high school. Such joy, such memories, such usefulness. What should you do now that all of THAT is gone?
First, realize that what you are going through is normal. Suddenly having an empty nest can be a painful shock to the system, leaving you feeling heartbroken and lost. No matter how long you may have looked forward to this day, the day when you could come and go where you wanted, for how long you wanted, without watching the time in order to pick somebody up from some activity, the day is here, and it's not fun! Your primary role in life for years, maybe decades, has been the role of "Mom" or "Dad", and that role has now been taken from you. You are left with only your spouse. You look at your spouse and wonder who that person is. You may also feel like you’re not sure who YOU are anymore – after all, your sense of self has been centered on being a parent for a long time.
So, what do you do now?
Do not ignore your feelings and recognize the fact that you experiencing Empty Nest Syndrome. There are many different avenues to consider, such as being proactive, taking time to learn about yourself, and rekindling your feelings for your spouse by making your marriage a priority.
- Be Proactive - Program yourself to learn how to cope with missing your child(ren). Prepare to deal with the loneliness before those feelings surface. Learn how to empower yourself with the tools that will help you be in control.
- Take Time to Learn about You - When you feel lonely, think about your life before children and remember the love you and your spouse had prior to having kids. Make dates, plan trips to see things you've dreamed of seeing over the years, or purposefully incorporate happiness and laughter into your everyday living. All of these things will make you feel better.
- Get a Pet or a Hobby - Share your newly found space with a pet. Studies have proven that having a pet in your life can lessen depression. Enroll in a painting or pottery class, take a gourmet cooking workshop, or read all those novels you've been hearing about. Getting out and about in the world can lead to meeting new people and developing new, lifelong friendships.
- Write in a Journal - Write about your feelings, as well as what you plan to do, or could do, to change the way you are responding to the empty nest. Sometimes writing your thoughts in a journal can be very therapeutic.
- Reconnect with Your Spouse - Learn what each of you likes and dislikes. Discover things you didn't know about your spouse due to the busy lives you have lived through the last few decades. Since there are no children in the house, you can be a bit more relaxed. Take showers and naps together, have sex whenever the urge presents itself. Snuggle on the couch together, in your underwear or unclothed, while watching television. Take advantage of your newfound privacy.
- Embrace your New Life - Your "life" has taken a back seat for many years. Now is the time to finally do what you've wanted, but not had the time, to do: travel, get a new job, move to a new city. The possibilities are endless. Live intentionally by doing things you want to do, with and without your spouse.
Although you knew the day was coming when you would no longer have children in your house, nobody can be totally prepared for the emotions that will follow the realization of the empty nest. It's helpful to have some knowledge of how to cope, as well as learning some things others in this predicament before you have done.
If the empty nest gets too overwhelming for you, contact a professional counselor. The trained staff at the Orange County Relationship Center can help you get through this time in your life. Call 949-220-3211 today to make an appointment or schedule your appointment online at our website. There is no need to suffer and go through coping with an empty nest by yourself. Many times, it is helpful to talk with someone who can help you by providing a different perspective to your situation or by teaching you ways to deal with your loneliness.