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13 Best Tips for How to Deal with Empty Nest Syndrome

There are some great ways to combat the lonely feelings of empty nest syndrome.

When your children are young the days can be very long.  And the thought of one day being an empty nester may feel light years away.

There is cooking, cleaning, laundry (endless laundry), chauffeuring, school volunteering, homework and studying. There are an infinite number of hours spent on the sidelines, courtside and watching performances, recitals, and tons of other extracurricular activities. There are tears over tests, tears over friend drama, tears over young love and tears over things that will seem insignificant as life presents greater challenges years down the road.

More meals are eaten in the car than around the table. There is no shortage of difficult conversations and teachable moments. 

But there are also times of incredible celebration, times when your parent heart could explode with pride. There are times when you stare at your children and see the most perfect imperfection that exists.  You blink and suddenly the unsteady, inquisitive toddler is now the smart, caring, confident young adult.

It’s parenting – and it’s the biggest challenge and reward all rolled into one.

But as your last child is getting ready to leave the family home, the time that felt like an eternity away is now here.  You are about to be an empty nester.

What is empty nest syndrome?

When the last child leaves the family home, parents and caregivers can experience feelings of loss, sadness, and loneliness. And although the term empty nest syndrome isn’t an official clinical diagnosis, the associated feelings are officially real. 

It can feel like a very conflicting time for any parent.  On the one hand, there is a tremendous sense of pride for all your child has achieved and their courage in taking that next step in a new phase of their life.  But on the other hand, you may feel lost.  Lost in your day-to-day role of all things caretaking and lost in what your own life now becomes.

As you are all getting ready to take on new roles, you might be left wondering what is yours?

Symptoms of empty nest syndrome

The grief, or sense of loss, that accompanies empty nest syndrome often goes unsupported because a grown child entering the next phase of adulthood is traditionally considered a normal, healthy, and exciting step. 

Unfortunately, that lack of support or understanding from others can compound the feelings of loneliness and lead to other new challenges to navigate such as:

  • A loss of purpose
  • Emotional distress
  • Marital stress
  • Anxiety about your children
  • Fear over a lack of control

How to deal with empty nest syndrome

Add in life’s natural timing and you may find yourself double dipping into other major life transitions such as menopause, retirement, or even divorce.  No matter your current stage of life, know that this can also be the start of a beautiful and new phase of your life.

The first step, is to prepare.

Preparing to be an empty nester

While some parents find the adjustment easier than others, psychologists suggest that it may take anywhere from 18 months to two years to acclimate to the “new norm.” Getting a head start with some intentional planning can be very beneficial.

If you are about to become an empty nester, or are struggling with empty nesting, there are tons of new things you can do to feel better prepared.  And while none of these suggestions require significant changes, they are all geared to make significantly positive impacts in your life!

13 Ways to Enjoy Being an Empty Nester

1. Stay connected with your kids

The perfect time to figure out how you will stay in touch is before your kids leave. While snaps and texts may be the most utilized communication for young adults, parents or other family members may prefer to sprinkle in some video calls and actual telephone conversations. Deciding these things in advance is a great way to lessen anxieties and make everyone feel better prepared, especially if there is a need to learn new technologies.

2. Get physically active

According to the American Heart Association, one of the most common personal barriers to being physically active is a lack of time. For full-time parents, free time is almost non-existent. But as an empty nester, the new normal is chock full of free time just waiting for you to fill it with healthy activities.  Exercise is the perfect opportunity to boost your mood and your health, but it can also be a great way to tap into, or expand, your social circle.  Try some new activities at your local gym or schedule a new class at a nearby fitness studio and create a healthy pastime!

3. Refresh your space

For the first time in a long time, you can consider using your space in a different way. Sure, you may have a hard time thinking about converting your child’s bedroom into a yoga room so small changes may be a better place to start. A fresh coat of paint or rearranging the TV room furniture can be an easy refresh without making you feel like you’re erasing your child’s life from the family home. If you are looking for a more structured way to organize or clean out your home, try joining a 52-week home organizing challenge.  It will provide distraction as well as a refreshed space!

4. Reconnect with friends and family

Chances are you have led an incredibly busy schedule over the years, leaving little if any extra time for friends and extended family. Now is a great time to reach out and reconnect with old friends and loved ones. Catch up over coffee, cook a fun dinner, or go for a walk together.  It may also be helpful to share with them that this is a difficult time for you or that you have feelings of sadness over becoming an empty nester. If they have grown children, you might even find comfort in hearing their tips on navigating empty nest syndrome as well!

5. Try new hobbies

Entertaining a new hobby in your previous life may have felt impossible.  But in this new chapter of life, pursuing new interests can be a great way to shift you away from any sort of empty nest depression. While exploring new interests can be a fun way to learn new things and meet new people, hobbies also have great health benefits. Research shows that spending time doing activities that make you happy helps to improve your mental health and overall well-being. Studies have found that engaging in such creative activities can increase positivity and reduce stress, a common denominator in mental health issues.

6. Start a self-care routine

Developing a solid, self-care routine is valuable at any age or stage of life. Evaluate your current self-care routine to be sure you have a variety of activities that support your physical health, mental health, and overall wellbeing. While self-care can sometimes be associated with things like massages and pedicures, try to focus on incorporating daily self-care activities as well.  Some daily self-care ideas to focus on are eating a healthy diet, developing a bedtime routine, journaling, creating a healthy skin care routine, or other mindfulness techniques such as meditation or stretching.

7. Volunteer

One of the best ways to combat feelings of loss is to give back to others. Some even refer to this as turning pain into purpose. Whether it’s identifying a meaningful cause that’s near and dear to your heart, or simply just helping a neighbor, volunteering can bring immeasurable joy.  In addition to replacing those feelings of loneliness with a renewed sense of purpose, you also can meet new people and create new friendships.

8. Welcome a new pet

The power of companionship is real. So is the power of unconditional love.  If you have ever been a pet owner, then you know just how much love those loyal companions bring to your life. Some pets have been shown to help reduce stress, anxiety, and depression and even ease feelings of loneliness. Owning a pet can also improve your cardiovascular health since many furry friends need regular exercise.

Evaluate your current environment and life stage of life to decide if welcoming a new pet is a good fit.  Remember that different types of pets bring different types of responsibilities so make sure to consider all options.  If you plan on doing a lot of traveling, certain pets may not be conducive to your lifestyle but others, like tropical fish, may be the perfect addition to your family home!

9. Travel

The real world, not just the one where you vacation at your children’s sporting events, is filled with new places to explore!  Always wanted to map out a museum tour, hike through national parks or visit wine country but opted for amusement parks and Disney trips instead? This is your moment to go experience and explore the world in a different way.  And who knows?  Maybe your adult children will even have interest in tagging along on some of your newfound travel adventures!

10. Reconnect with your partner

Many marriages and relationships are stressed and stretched during the child raising years. It is an easy time to lose sight of each other’s needs during the chaotic years of building a family and raising a family while balancing all other life stressors such as work and finances. Refocus on each other by adding in some date nights or weekend get-aways. 

If you are a single parent, consider opening yourself up to the possibility of a new relationship or companion.

11. Journal

Regularly journaling can be an effective way to navigate life in general, whether it’s a tough time or you are content.  The act of journaling and getting your thoughts out on a regular basis helps to encourage space from negative feelings.  It can help to process feelings of grief by creating a space for you to recognize those feelings, not live in those feelings.  Journaling can also boost your creative mind and provide a positive outlet for brainstorming, goal setting and affirmations. There are many different ways to journal so have fun exploring a variety of journaling methods and pick the ones that fit you best!

12. Seek professional help if needed

If you begin to recognize that the signs of empty nest syndrome resemble greater mental health issues, such as depression, please seek the help of a mental health professional.  There may also be support groups to access in your local area or even virtually. This is a new stage of life, and you will experience many changes in this space.  It doesn’t automatically mean your situation is good or bad, but it is different. Give yourself the grace, and time, to process these changes and differences but do not hesitate to seek help from others.

13. Recognize that your children still need you

Take a deep breath.  Your children still need you.  Your children will always need you, no matter their age.  The situations and circumstances of their needs change over time but your role as Mom, Dad or Caregiver will always have a purpose in their lives.  Becoming an empty nester doesn’t diminish you as their parent any more than it would them as your child.  It is a new way of life, but you are still Mom and Dad, and you always will be.

The silver lining of becoming an empty nester

We all have choices when it comes to perspective and how you choose to view becoming an empty nester is no different.  The first step is to embrace the positive aspects of this new life chapter for everyone involved!

Your children are launching into adult life, and you have a front row seat to all their amazing accomplishments yet to come.  You are entering into an incredible stage of life that affords you opportunities and the time to explore new interests, places, and maybe even a healthier lifestyle. 

Enjoy your new roles and celebrate your past ones.  And don’t forget, no matter where you are, no matter where they are, you will always be their parent.  Much love to all the Moms, Dads and Caregivers.