When you hear the term “empty term syndrome,” chances are you’ll think about that dreaded day when your youngest child moves out your home.
And you’re right. Well, partly.
Because the truth is that it isn’t just full-time moms that suffer from the empty nest syndrome. It’s something that can affect adult men and women as well as those that don’t have any children.
So, what is the empty nest syndrome?
If you Google the definition of the empty nest syndrome, the majority of the results will tell you that this is the immense feeling of loss, loneliness, and sadness mothers feel when all of their children leave for college.
Some of the common symptoms you’ll experience as a brand new empty nester are:
- Crying easily and suddenly
- Long periods of extreme sadness
- Changes in appetite and sleeping patterns
- Anxiety over your child’s welfare
- Withdrawing from other people
- Believing that life no longer has purpose or meaning
Interesting enough, these are the same emotions you may feel when after going through a divorce, death of a close family member, or even going through a significant change in your life like losing your financial stability or becoming disabled.
Given this, here’s how I would define the empty nest syndrome:
The empty nest syndrome is an emotional phenomenon where you feel an overwhelming feeling of loss and grief after going through a life-changing event that involves the loss of something or someone valuable.
Impact of not addressing the empty nest syndrome
Even though the empty nest syndrome isn’t classified as a clinical disorder or mental condition, that doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be taken seriously.
Studies show that empty nesters who aren’t able to adequately process these negative emotions will experience strains in their marriage. In fact, 1 out of 100 married couples divorce after becoming empty nesters.
Not dealing with the negative emotions that come with becoming an empty nester can also cause stay-at-home moms to increase their alcohol intake, putting them at risk of becoming alcoholics.
Other negative results of going the empty nest symptom include:
- Elevated stress levels
- Identity crisis
- Loss of purpose resulting in profound feelings of rejection
How to cope as an empty nester
1. Plan ahead.
Take the time to plan out all the things that you’d want to do the moment you become an empty nester.
Make a list of all the dreams and goals you’ve set aside while raising your kids. Perhaps you’ve always wanted to go on a cross-country road trip or starting a new business. Maybe you’ve had to stop school, and have been secretly wishing to go back and finish your degree. Or perhaps you’ve always wanted to give your home a bit of a facelift.
Whatever these goals are, write. Don’t second-guess yourself. You’ve devoted close to two decades of your life caring for others. Now, you have the chance to focus on yourself.
2. Talk to other (happy) empty nesters.
There are thousands of women who are about to become empty nesters or have already been living the empty nester lifestyle that you can reach out to for advice or a listening ear. That way, you won’t feel like you’re alone in your struggles.
You can find an empty nester support group in or near your area in Meetup. There are also lots of online support groups for empty nesters on social media networks like Facebook and LinkedIn you can join and participate.
One thing to remember is to choose those women who are happy empty nesters. In the words of Jim Rohn, “you are the average of the five people with whom you spend the most time.”
That means that if you spend lots of time with women who are enjoying their lives as empty nesters, their positivity and enthusiasm will rub off on you. As a result, you’ll approach your life as an empty nester full of hope and optimism.
3. Begin reconnecting as a couple.
When the kids came, they became your top priority. Everything else had to take a backseat, including your marriage. So by the time your kids leave your home, you may feel like you’re sharing a house with a complete stranger.
Sadly, this is one reason why many couples divorce after their kids leave for college, get married or have to move because of their work.
Take the initiative to rekindle that romance and bond you once shared with your spouse. Spend a few hours each day to do the things that you and your spouse used to enjoy. Visit the places that you’ve always wanted. Plan out date nights. Ask your spouse about their day.
When talking with your spouse, don’t inject any conversations about your kids.
Don’t be surprised if things feel awkward at first. After all, you and your spouse have changed a lot in the past 18 years. So take things slow. Eventually, you and your spouse will ease back into that life you once had before you had kids.
4. Don’t bottle up your emotions.
Allow yourself to have a good cry and go through the grieving process. The sooner you let all these emotions out, the sooner you’ll be able to move forward in this new chapter of your life.
Seeking the help of an empty nester coach can help you transition to becoming an independent empty nester. Not only would you have someone that will help you process your emotions, shift your focus and mindset, and go through the transition more smoothly.
5. Avoid making drastic decisions.
How you feel at this point in time can severely cloud your judgment, causing you to make drastic decisions. The thing is that these decisions aren’t always the best options for you to take. Often, you’ll find yourself regretting these decisions you’ve made. Some of these decisions can be reversed while others are permanent and couldn’t be changed.
That said, don’t put yourself in a situation where you’ll have to make a crucial decision while you’re still going through this wild emotional rollercoaster ride. Give yourself time to adjust with the changes that come now that you’re an empty nester.
Of course, there are cases when a decision must be made despite the emotional turmoil. In these cases, have your spouse or one of your older kids to make the decisions on your behalf.
6. Take care of your health.
Joining a fitness class or taking more leisurely walks will keep you fit and healthy. At the same time, exercising regularly causes your body to release endorphins (aka happy hormones) that help boost your moods and uplift your spirits.
Make sure that you also watch what you eat. Studies show that eating a well-balanced diet can help alleviate depression and anxiety.
And while it’s okay to indulge in a glass of wine or bourbon every now and then, be sure not to go overboard. Not only does it increase feelings of depression and anxiety, but drinking too much alcohol can lead to serious health problems long-term.
7. Embrace the change.
No matter how you’d want everything to stay the same, the reality is that they don’t. Kids grow up and will want to live their lives on their own. And while you’ll always be their mom, you’ll have to make changes with the way you treat and relate to them.
Now that your children are adults, treat them as adults. That means allowing them to make their own choices and handle grown-up things like making sure they pay their bills on time, cook their meals, and do the laundry. It also means not calling or texting them all the time or consistently checking what they post on their social media accounts.
This can be tough, considering how these were things that you’ve done in the past, and your kids were okay with them. However, hovering over your children this way is actually going to cause them more harm than good. That’s because they won’t develop into responsible members of society. Not only can this affect their future as individuals, but also when they have their own families.
So the sooner you can accept these changes and embrace them, the sooner you’ll overcome the feelings of anxiety and guilt that come with becoming an empty nester.
8. Review your finances.
Your household budget won’t be as large as it used to be when your kids were living with you. That means that you now got some extra funds freed up that you and your spouse can use elsewhere.
Talk with your spouse about the options, so that you have a clear idea where should your extra funds should go.
Do you still have an outstanding mortgage on your home? If so, you may want to allocate your extra funds towards this so that you can pay off your home earlier than you initially thought. Perhaps you can use some of the extra cash towards your 401K or maybe have some much-needed repairs and improvements done to your home.
The light at the end of the tunnel
The road to becoming an empty nester can be an emotional one for you. But that doesn’t mean that it’s all doom and gloom.
After all, you don’t stop being a mom to your kids the moment they leave your home. On the contrary, the distance can actually make your relationship with your children stronger than before they left. As they start their own journey towards living independent lives, they’ll begin to appreciate and value all the things that you’ve done in the past for them.
As long as you give them space and treat them as adults, they’ll soon start being the ones to reach out and contact you. Thanks to today’s technology, it’s so much easier (and cheaper) than it was when you were their age.
This new chapter in your life also opens a world of new opportunities and second chances for you and your spouse. Now you can live out the dreams that you’ve put on hold and try new things.
If you’re not quite sure on what you can do now that you’re an empty nester, I’ve written an ebook listing 20 fun and fulfilling this that you can do as an empty nester to give you some ideas. Click below to get a copy of this freebie.
Now, over to you.
What is the one thing that you’ll start doing today to beat the empty nester syndrome? Share your comments below.