Kids will not remain kids forever. There will come a time when they will grow up, be independent, move out of their parents’ house, and face the world head-on. All these phases are completely normal. But for parents who dedicated their lives to raising and supporting their children, these won’t be easy.
In 2018, celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay shared how he dealt with Jack’s, his 18-year-old son, departure to the University of Exeter. He said he was “gutted” at having to say goodbye to his son and revealed that he went into Jack’s bedroom, opened his drawers, and put on a pair of pants he found there. Ramsay also admitted he felt the tears welling up at the thought of his baby leaving home.
Celia Dodd, the author of “The Empty Nest: How to Survive and Stay Close to Your Adult Child,” also shared that she still has vivid memories about how tough it was when her three children, who are aged between 26 and 33, moved out. “It was a real physical wrench. I found it a very difficult time. People say, ‘Get a life,’ and of course, your life will go on – but what was at the center of your life isn’t there anymore. You feel something is missing – it’s really visceral,” she said.
These stories show that it is indeed hard for parents to adjust without the presence of their kids at home. This particular transition experience is known as "empty nest syndrome."
Understanding Empty Nest Syndrome
Having a child to leave the "nest" is a huge transition. While empty nest syndrome is not recognized as a clinical diagnosis, experts say that both parents and children should pay attention to the signs or symptoms.
According to Good Therapy, a leading online therapist directory and mental health resource, empty nest syndrome describes a collection of symptoms including loneliness, grief, and loss of purpose that some parents experience when their kids leave home for college, careers, or relationships. They can feel isolated, lonely, or abandoned which can result in long-term distress. If not addressed, this syndrome can lead to mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.
Family therapist Paul Hokemeyer said that empty nest syndrome, in clinical terms, would be diagnosed as something called an “adjustment disorder.” It can fall into the same class as other life transitions such as the loss of a job, a divorce, the loss of a parent or a move to a new city. “The underlying feature of these events is the profound impact they have on our identity and ability to fall grounded in the familiar,” he said.
Experts have listed several signs and symptoms that parents can suffer when experiencing empty nest syndrome. A loss of purpose, for instance, makes parents feel a bit empty. This feeling is typical for parents whose children recently left the nest. Since they are defined by their role as a parent, having no child to look after at home every day can be life-changing. A parent’s sense of purpose can be affected when the kids have finally flown the nest, which can be difficult to get used to.
According to Health.com, an online site that delivers accurate, trusted, up-to date health and medical information for consumers, many parents also find themselves plagued by overwhelming sadness, fear and a deep sense of loss. “As parents we want our children to launch into the world. For years we've poured our hearts and souls in their departure and have often fantasized about the freedom and opportunities we'd enjoy when we had only ourselves to attend to,” Dr. Hokemeyer said.
Coping with Empty Nest Syndrome
Most of the time, parents are also unaware that they are going through this kind of transition. Dr. Hokemeyer said that it is nothing to be ashamed of since parents are biologically hard-wired to protect and nurture their children. What’s important is how they will handle those emotions and gradually accept that their kids have grown into adults.
1 – Find another purpose
For parents who have kids who left home, it’s hard to decide what they will do next because they have no purpose anymore. However, experts say that parents should still strive to find another purpose for themselves. They can find new hobbies or join support groups to keep them company.
2 – Reconnect with yourself
According to VeryWell Family, a modern resource that offers a realistic and friendly approach to pregnancy and parenting, parents can slowly go back to things they love. Dr. Dimitrios Paschos, a consultant psychiatrist, said that these things can be a great distraction and will help ease the feeling of loss.
“Every hour of every day shouldn’t be accounted for – it’s important to recognise and address your feelings, rather than masking them – but planning a few activities every week, whether joining a tennis club, arranging lunch with friends or pursuing a new hobby, is a great start,” he said.
3 – Take one step at a time
Kids growing into adults and leaving their homes is natural and common. The least parents can do is to prepare their children and themselves. Alicia Drummond, counselor and parenting coach, said that it would be helpful to talk and plan about it together. This way, parents can also bond with their kids more and spend quality time together.
“The developmental drive of adolescence is to start to change the connections with parents. If you’re holding on too tight at that stage, when they do finally take their independence it can feel like an almighty severing. If you’ve been letting go by degrees it doesn’t feel such a wrench,” she said
4 – Resist the urge to check in too much
It’s normal to keep worrying about your kids. However, it would be easier to only check on them from time to time. Refrain from checking your child's social media accounts, calling them every morning, and spending your time worrying about them. Learning to overcome empty nest syndrome means letting go and letting your child grow into an independent adult.