Overcoming Empty Nest Syndrome

The psychological condition that affects parents, when their children leave the home environment to fend for themselves, is known as Empty Nest Syndrome. As the primary caregiver, in most cases, this emotional condition generally affects mothers more noticeably. In severe cases it can bring on depressive moods and thoughts although being aware of emotional needs will help control troubling reactions.

What is Empty Nest Syndrome?

Empty Nest Syndrome is the emotional response of a parent when their child/children leave home to embark on a new life. This is usually due to college or university commitments but can also be caused by gap year travel plans and other opportunities that require independence and responsibility for self. The marriage of a child can also create the same feelings.

If the bond with your child has always been particularly close a parent will undoubtedly experience pangs of discomfort once the young adult is ready to flee the home/nest. Until now a parent’s main focus has been centred on the wellbeing and upbringing of the child. Now that they are ready to leave home parental support may appear to become redundant. It is this feeling of loss and sadness that creates an emotional response in the parent and this can sometimes be more acute, or severe, than expected.

Severe Reactions

It is normal for a parent to feel upset and sad when their child is ready to leave home to start a life of their own. Having an emotional release, in the form of crying, can help heal the feelings of upset as this offers acceptance and an opportunity to move forward. Excessive crying, however, is not only emotionally draining and distressing but also prolongs the feelings of Empty Nest Syndrome and impacts on other areas of responsibility and life.

Discussing emotional feelings with your GP will establish whether counselling support may provide a beneficial service in helping to overcome overwhelming feelings of loss. Your GP may also advise antidepressant medication and/or provide a referral for Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, otherwise known as CBT.

Personal Changes

Although the leaving of a child, from the family home, may initiate Empty Nest Syndrome it is important to be aware that at this time in life a parent may be experiencing other changes that also impact on feelings, moods and behaviour. The onset of menopause, for instance, can create fluctuating emotional response for women already experiencing other changes in their world. Accepting that life changes, whether you want it to or not, will help those experiencing emotional turmoil achieve a better level of understanding and clarity. By welcoming change, instead of resisting it, you are also more able to work through issues that create stress, anxiety, self-doubt and frustration.

Understanding Their Feelings

The child leaving home will also be experiencing a change in their feelings and emotions. Whilst they may be excited at the prospect of opportunity and independence they will also be experiencing feelings of anxiety and self-doubt and many other contradictory expressions of emotion. Understanding that you are not the only person experiencing overwhelming feelings of emotion will help you relate more closely with your child, and help you both cope with the feelings of loss and change.

Broadening Relationships

It is important to maintain a semblance of normality in your relationship with your child when they leave the home. If your relationship has always been close then it is acceptable to maintain a certain level of interest and care even from a distance. It is essential, however, that a parent accepts and respects their child now has other priorities and may not be as willingly responsive to forms of parental contact. Establishing what works well for parent and child – perhaps an initial weekly phone call or email until a new behaviour pattern is formed– enables both parties to broaden the relationship with each other whilst accepting the changes that this separation creates.

Changing Priorities

The changing of personal priorities is also an important factor in helping a parent move beyond Empty Nest Syndrome. One less mouth to feed and less washing will free up new pockets of time that can now be spent focusing on self. Making yourself the focus of your day will also enable progressive acceptance and create a positive new life experience.

Setting Up Support

It is worthwhile considering establishing a support group of friends and family members who are able to lighten your emotional load. If you have friends who are also experiencing the same home environment changes offering to share mutual support will help replace the loss with a gain.

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