Empty nest syndrome or heartache is often used to describe the grief many parents feel when their children move out of the family home.
While it’s not a clinical diagnosis, empty nest syndrome is a well-known and common phenomenon that generally involves feelings of loss, sadness, and rejection, and the questioning of purpose and self-identity.
It’s normal to be sad when your children leave home – or even in the leadup to them leaving. It can take some time to adjust to this new ‘normal’. But if you’re struggling with ongoing symptoms of depression or emotional distress, it may help to talk to a professional.
We hope this advice helps you cope with empty nest syndrome and embrace the positive opportunities this new chapter presents.
Nurture your friendships
Kids can take up a lot of your time – no matter their age. Now your children have left the home, you may have more free time to catch up with friends.
Investing in friendships and filling your social calendar can ward off feelings of loneliness while increasing your sense of belonging and purpose. You might like to organise a monthly potluck dinner or encourage friends to join a social sport or book club with you.
Reconnect with your partner
Quality time and spontaneous dates can go by the wayside once kids come along. Now you have the house to yourselves again, you can embrace your newfound freedom and rediscover all your favourite things to do together – without worrying whether the kids will enjoy them too.
Plan a weekly date night out of the house and create new traditions at home together with boardgame and movie nights.
Chances are your partner shares similar feelings about your children leaving home, so remember that you’re in this together and have someone to confide in when you’re not feeling your best. And if you’re single, lean on your support network of friends and family when times are tough.
Navigate your new relationship with your child
Physical distance from your child doesn’t have to mean emotional distance between you. Your relationship will naturally change as they gain some independence, but this is an opportunity to build a genuine friendship as they become their own person.
Keep in touch with texts, calls, and visits (when invited) while respecting their boundaries (e.g. don’t judge their decisions or offer unsolicited advice, and avoid putting pressure on them to contact or visit you more often).
Make plans for the future
Being a parent can define your identity. It’s normal to question who you are and what’s next for you when your children don’t need you as they once did.
This is a chance for you to prioritise yourself and your goals. Reflect on what’s important to you and what you want your life to look like moving forward. This might involve creating a bucket list featuring several categories such as travel, career, fitness, relationships, spirituality, and contribution.
Having something to look forward to can help increase motivation and overall mood. So turn those goals into plans and book a trip, sign up for a marathon, take guitar lessons, or start a course.
Seek professional support
If your symptoms of empty nest heartache are persistent or impacting your daily life, it may help to seek professional support.
Talking to a counsellor in a non-judgemental environment can help you explore your feelings and concerns and find healthy coping strategies. You can learn more about our counselling service here, or call 1300 364 277 to book an appointment in person, over the phone, or via Zoom video call.
We provide some tips to adapt to your new dynamic and foster a good relationship with your adult children in this blog post.