After dedicating what feels like your entire life to caring for your kids, they’re finally setting out on their own. You’re a newly-minted empty nester.
Your everyday has revolved around their care for so long, you can’t even remember what life before kids looked like. And now that they’ve flown the nest, you’re left feeling lonely and directionless.
So what do you do when you suddenly become an empty nester, still loved but no longer needed by your adult children? How do you fill the lonely void?
For many, the worst part about becoming an empty nester is the loss of purpose. And that can feeling can throw even the most level-headed of us into a panic – or worse, an existential crisis.
First things first, remember that you’re not alone, that you’re not crazy for feeling lost, and that there are always others who understand your struggle. Here are some examples of how other parents have felt as newly-minted empty nesters.
“You’re given a task. Keep track of these people. So, you do this task diligently. For years. It becomes your life, even though you’re told to not let it become your life. One day, you’re told: don’t do that anymore.”
“My kids have moved out. Really no friends and no dates to speak of. I’m totally alone and I’m over it!”
“I am having trouble coping with my emotions, as I transition with my boy leaving for college, and a hard life left for me at home.”
“I now realize I may have needed her as much as she needed me.”
“I realize that I need to build myself a life apart from my kids”
“It’s a weird feeling.”
Hopefully these perspectives bring light to what you’re going through, and let you know that there’s no shame in feeling lonely and lost after your kids leave home. You’re going through something both common and temporary.
That said, how can you adjust to not being needed? How can you invest in yourself and feel happy as an empty nester?
How to cope with empty nest syndrome
Go to the gym
You spent the past two decades making sure your kids were healthy and strong. Now it’s time to focus on your own physical well being!
Try yoga or hiking to feel energized and stimulated again. These activities also create opportunities to make friends in your same boat.
Just because you’re a certain age doesn’t mean you can’t discover new passions and skills. Online tutorials help, but in-person workshops and classes will help you find a renewed sense of purpose, within a community. Consider taking classes offered by a community center to pursue interests you’ve never had the chance to before, in a social setting.
Come together with other empty nesters
There are many people trying to fill their empty nests at any given time! Reach out to friends who’ve recently become empty nesters, and find purpose in supporting them as you’d like to be. This also lets you build up meaningful relationships that may have been neglected while your kids were around. If none of your friends can relate, find some fellow empty nesters on Supportiv!
Hang out in new places
Often, having ‘birds in the nest’ can make it impossible to travel where and when you want to. You don’t have to make a big production, and it doesn’t have to be across the country. But even just exploring historic or popular areas of your city is a great way to invest in your own interests. Feel grateful you can spend as long as you want in your favorite museum or cafe! You’re living for you now.
Things not to do as an empty nester
There are tons of things you can do to cope with Empty Nest Syndrome. However there are a few things you should avoid doing, both for your sake and your child’s.
You might feel tempted to call your child every single day to check up on them. Resist the urge! They need time to explore and be independent, which they can’t do if they have one ear to a phone. And on the other side of the coin, you can’t set out to form your new identity while clinging to your role as ‘active parent.’
Similar to calling, visiting your children too often can cause loads of problems. They have their own space now and it’s important to respect the boundaries that they put up. They have to learn how to run their own lives and what works for them – even if it’s by trial and error. Their roommates or friends may also feel uncomfortable with a parent popping by all the time.
Getting too involved
When your child is procrastinating on chores or struggling with a class, you may feel the need to get involved. Unless it’s something serious, hold yourself back – this may be the first time your kid feels the type of consequences that motivate change. Instead of involving yourself directly, you can listen to and validate your child’s frustrations, still being a safe home base figure, without telling them what to do.
“I ask myself this question: What is the best thing I can do for my kid today? The answer is: absolutely nothing. Leave her alone.”
Your child may stop contacting you as much as they find hobbies or get busy with exams. Try not to be jealous in the time you do have with them. Instead of prying or guilting them that they should call more, just value the time you do have together. They’re doing exactly what you raised them to – being independent adults!
Just because all your little birds have flown from the nest doesn’t mean you have to sit around all day. Being an empty nester is an opportunity to love, respect, and work on yourself for a change.
And it’s important to remember that you’re not a bad parent for letting go – you’re doing exactly what you’re supposed to.
So take flight and start your own journey! If talking it out could help, we’re here at Supportiv 24/7 to listen.