When my daughter started her first year of college, I was excited for this new chapter in her life. Never in a million years did I think I would sob uncontrollably from Flagstaff to Phoenix. I did not realize I was suddenly suffering from Empty Nest Syndrome.
Mayo Clinic defines Empty Nest Syndrome as a phenomenon in which parents experience sadness and loss when the last child leaves home.
According to Psychology Today, parents want their children to grow up and lead independent lives. However, during this transition it can be emotionally challenging. Parents may feel lonely, sad, or filled with grief when their children “leave the nest.” For some, it can lead to distress and a loss of purpose and meaning in life. And, it’s not just parents— siblings may also experience this very real phenomenon.
Every parent’s experience will be different. Some may not have any hardship at all. If the experience begins to affect your daily routine though, it’s time to be concerned and you may need to reach out to a counselor for a check-in.
For me, just as I got used to my new routine and newfound freedom, the school year ended and she was home. I spent every moment I could with her, knowing she would soon be off again. The back-and-forth emotional roller coaster got a little easier, to the point where I was really ready for her to spread her wings and soar solo upon graduation.
Some parents who devote their life to just rearing their children may feel a complete sense of loss as to what to do with their time. For example, for me, I found myself asking, “What the heck do I do with myself now?” And, even worse, “Who am I?” For 18 years I was always “Marteen’s mom.” I can’t remember the last time I was actually called by my given name.
“Coach Christine” Maziarz, producer of the Your Empty Nest Coach podcast and founder of YourEmptyNestCoach. com, found herself asking the same questions. Maziarz was thrown into the empty nest when her gifted daughter started college four years earlier than anticipated. Completely unprepared for what was to come, Maziarz worked through this new challenge and emerged as an empty nest coach, coaching women on how to positively transform through this experience and find themselves along the way.
I asked Maziarz for some tips on when we should start preparing for this stage. She suggests following the “PSPF” rule and implementing it as soon as your child is leaving.
PSPF stands for: Patience while experiencing and embracing this new phase; Self-love with who you are now and what you are experiencing; Patience and respecting other members of the family as they are transitioning; have Fun on the transitional journey.
She also suggests using your imagination skills and envisioning what your future self will look like. If emotions such as sadness and guilt pop up, spend time exploring that and find the root cause to clear them. Remind yourself that you are strong enough to process through it. If you cannot do this on your own, seek out a coach or therapist who can help.
The more emotionally positive you are towards this new beginning, the more it will help ease your child’s mind.
They too are dealing with fear, guilt, and a host of other emotions. Some students end up coming back home because they can’t handle the emotional experience. Being prepared emotionally ahead of time can help.
Also have open communication in the home. Allow your child to discuss concerns ahead of time and really spend time actively listening and exploring solutions. Once in college, if your child calls, answer the phone. Even if you are busy, let them hear your voice.
Maziarz suggests setting boundaries though—if it is not an emergency, have them email or text you. There are no hard-and-fast rules; rather, it’s what works for you.
One of things I did for my daughter (well, let’s face it, me too) was to send her things in the mail. I would write little letters of encouragement and send funny cards. Once, I saw a little book of the kids’ Hangman game and sent it to her with a little note. She later revealed these really helped her feel at ease and looked forward to receiving them.
I believe the hardest transition is not being a part of your child’s daily activities. Maziarz suggests that having a discussion about what level of detail you would like to know about their new life is a great start. Recognize that they’ll be navigating their own emotions and daily activities as they transition into adulthood, and think of yourself as a coach instead of a parent. Be there for them, listen actively, and engage in open-ended conversations.
Empty Nest Syndrome can be a positive experience for the entire family. Be open to active conversation, enlist a coach or therapist to help you and your family through the transition, work with a coach who can help you reinvent yourself, remember the PSPF, embrace this rite of passage, and be proud of your emerging young adult.