It can be a bittersweet experience when your kids go off to college or move out of your home. You are excited for their future, but also can feel their absence in your now empty house. You may find yourself with a lot more time on your hands, and now your husband or partner is the only other person in the house, which can significantly change the dynamic. You may not be any time close to experiencing an empty nest, but you can start taking action now to prepare and reduce the impact of it in the near future.
“Empty Nest Syndrome”
It is normal to feel sadness, grief, or even depression when your kids move away––so normal that it has been coined “empty nest syndrome.” The people that you have poured so much energy and time into don’t need you anymore, and that can lead to a sense of purposelessness or uselessness.
It is also normal for marital issues to come to the surface during this time that may have been latent when the kids were home. The divorce rate among empty nesters is now 1 in 4. If you’ve spent so much time nurturing your kids while they were home that you neglected to nurture your marriage, it’s easy to see how this can happen.
If you find yourself feeling down or having a hard time in your marriage after your kids leave for college, you are not alone. Here are a few ways you can overcome “empty nest syndrome” and get back to feeling like yourself:
1. Recognize and Accept the Different Seasons of Parenting
Oftentimes depression and mental health struggles arise when we are resistant to our circumstances or are focusing too much on the negatives. Instead of thinking about how much you miss your kids, what if you paid attention to the benefits of your newfound freedom?
For example, maybe now instead of getting up early to see your kids off to school, you can sleep in longer and have slower mornings. Or maybe now you have more time to visit with friends in the afternoons, or start a new hobby.
Just as there were challenges and joys in your kids' younger years, there will be challenges and joys in this season too. Once you can accept that this is the season you are in and embrace it wholeheartedly, it will be a lot easier to manage the more difficult feelings that come up.
2. Nurture Your Relationship With Your Spouse
Now that you have more time alone with your spouse, it is critical that you nurture and nourish your relationship. Many issues that have built up over the years can come up when the distraction of kids is gone, but it doesn’t have to ruin your marriage.
Spend quality, intentional time together out of the house. Go on date nights or take weekend trips together. Have ho
nest and hard conversations, but also don’t expect to solve all of your problems in one night. Be patient with one another as you learn how to live together again without kids. Have fun and enjoy the time alone together.
If you can’t talk through problems and come to a solution together, don’t hesitate to reach out for counseling. Deep-seated and long-standing marital issues are hard to unravel alone, and sometimes an unbiased and compassionate third party is the only way to move forward.
3. Find Support if You are Single
While married empty-nesters can come across many challenges, it can also be a difficult time if you are sing
le. The loneliness you may feel when your kids leave may be amplified by not having a partner to share your feelings with.
If you are a single empty-nester, lean into your community during this time. Whether it is your church, hiking group, or extended family, it is important for you to stay connected. Seek out other single parents who are in the same season, and meet up regularly to talk about the unique challenges and joys you face.
If you feel like you can’t cope, reach out to a trained therapist. Don’t isolate yourself—this can lead to more mental health problems.
4. Find a New Purpose
Finally, whether you are married or single, the time you now have as an empty-nester offers a great opportunity to find a new way to use it. You could try a new hobby, volunteer in your community, go back to school, or even go after that dream job you have been putting off while the kids were young. The possibilities are endless, but it’s never too late to try something new.
Remember that your identity is not in your role as a mother. And also remember that you are still a mother even though your kids have flown the nest. Embracing both of these truths will set you free to pursue the things you love while they are gone, and enjoy the times you get to be together in the future without dreading when they leave again.
It will take time to adjust to your new life without kids, but you may find your life becomes even more beautiful and meaningful as your marriage grows and matures, and as you get to watch your kids thrive and blossom as a result of all your hard work raising them.