Coping With Empty Nest SyndromeIt’s that time of year again – back to school. For some though, it’s not just back to school, it’s transitioning from living at home and going to high school/secondary school, to being out on their own and starting college. But what about the parents? Going from having your house loud, bustling, and busy, to well… silence… can be a bit difficult. As parents, your lives have circled around raising your children; but if your children are gone, what do you do now? This may feel like a hard time/transition, but it doesn’t have to be. This can actually become a new opportunity to redefine yourself and your relationship with your spouse

1. Try New things!

At this point, both of you are hopefully set in your careers and financially comfortable. Try new things together (or by yourself!) that you didn’t have time to try before, or things you’ve always wanted to do but never have. The idea is to prevent you from sitting at home all evening when you used to be going to sports games or school events. However, be careful not to fill up all of your free time. Also, make sure that what you are investing your time in is positive.These could be things like:

  • Taking a wine tasting class together
  • Planning a trip
  • Starting or joining a book club
  • Joining a local group or club that has people your same age (meetup.com is great for this)
  • If you have developed friendships with the parents of your children’s friends, plan date nights out or ladies nights
  • Volunteering/joining a cause

Even if you are not as financially set as you’d like to be, you can still find new activities to try. Many newspapers have an “entertainment” section that lists what is going on in the community. See what free events are going on around the city, are there any free concerts? Art shows? A community fair or block party? And even if you’re divorced, grab a friend to go with you, or ask a coworker if they’d be interested in going to one of these activities after work.

2. Take a different perspective

Don’t look at this as time you have to now fill. Look at this as a time to find joy in how your children are prospering. Look at this as a time to reinvent yourself. Think of all the new things you get to try! And remember, they aren’t gone forever! Many universities have “parent’s weekends”, especially if your child is in a sorority or fraternity. Let this be a time that your children can show off to you what they’re doing. You aren’t losing contact with your children, although it can sometimes feel that way. Chances are, they are struggling with finding their own independence and being on their own at the same time. Try sending them “midterms survival kits” filled with snacks, pencils, soda, small gift cards for pizza or sub sandwiches, or things to get through midterms or finals times.

3. Make plans, set goals

While you’re thinking of all the new things you’re going to try. Make plans of what you’d like to do over the next 5, 10, 15 years, etc. People discuss these things when they’re getting married, so why not discuss them now as you reinvent your new lives? Plan on when you want to retire, do you want to move? You and your partner have spent so much time focusing on your children, planning for them to get their first car, helping them with sports, homework, and such; that it’s again (and I know I’m repeating this a lot) time to bring the focus back onto the relationship. Also, having something to look forward to in the future, like retiring, moving, or a trip can help take your mind of the anxiety you’re feeling now.

4. Get healthy

I don’t just mean staying mentally healthy as I’ve described in this post… stay physically healthy! Studies show that people in better physical health, who eat healthy foods and exercise regularly are better able to handle stressors and are more able to ward of symptoms of depression. Set up a workout routine to go workout together! Not only does this help build bonds between you and your partner, but it makes it more likely that you will go workout if you have someone to do it with.

5. Redevelop YOURSELF!

I know I’ve stressed several times in this post that this can be a good time to work on you and your spouse’s relationship… but there is a fine line between having a healthy relationship and devoting yourself 100% all of the time to each other. Make sure you are doing things on your own with other friends, or even just by yourself. You could start a hobby on your own like taking yoga classes, going golfing with guys, having a spa day with the girls, or making scrapbooks of all the photos of the kids you never got around to actually making.

Remember… other people have survived their children going off to college too, so it IS possible to get through it! It may be difficult, or you may find this time easier than other couples. If you find you are having a difficult time adjusting, individual or couples counseling may be of benefit to you.

Now it’s YOUR turn to talk! Readers whose children have left for college, what did you do that you found helpful to get through the adjustment? And for the parents who haven’t left yet… what are you thinking of trying? Or even if your someone who witnessed your parents having a difficult time when you left, what worked for your parents?

  Nicole Paulie is a Counselling Psychologist, and co-author of “How to be Happy and Healthy – The seven natural elements of mental health.” She provides therapy in the Dublin city area. Contact us to learn more or to book an appointment.

Coping with Empty Nest Syndrome
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