Overcoming Empty Nest Syndrome

african american woman graduate hugging another woman(BlackDoctor.org) — With all the excitment of proms, graduations and upcoming college moves going on, it might be hard to remember that behind every transitioning young adult…are transitioning parents, who, while overjoyed and oh-so-proud of their child’s success, are forced to balance that pride with sadness, anxiety, even depression, of having to let their children go.

Dear Spirit,

I think I’m suffering from a mid-life crisis before the “middle” of my life even gets started. My youngest child is graduating from high school next month and headed out of state for college. I have no idea why, but my feelings of pride and happiness are being overshadowed by intense sadness and anxiety. What is wrong with me and how can I get a hold of myself so that I don’t become one of those “clingy” mothers who don’t know how to let go as their children head off to begin their lives?


Sad Mommy in AZ

Dear Sad Mommy,

First and foremost, congratulations on the tremendous accomplishment of ushering your children into adulthood! As your last child leaves home, it’s more than understandable that you might be feeling a host of different emotions during this period of transition. On the one hand, you may have looked forward to the day when your children would be grown, self-sufficient adults who would no longer rely on you as their primary provider. On the other hand, you may now find yourself wondering what you’re supposed to do with the rest of your life when most of it has revolved around fulfilling their needs. This internal struggle probably finds you vacillating between feelings of excitement at the thought of your impending freedom and sadness at the thought of coming home to an empty house each day.

The technical term for the feelings that you describe is known as “Empty Nest Syndrome,” and is characterized as feelings of depression, sadness, and/or grief experienced by parents and caregivers after children come of age and leave their childhood homes. While women are more likely to experience these feelings as their child’s primary caregiver, men may also experience many of these emotions in varying degrees after the departure of their children. The key to overcoming these feelings has is largely dependent on how well you are able to embrace this new chapter in your life.

A New Chapter In Your Life, As Well As Theirs

While many people look for ways to “keep busy” after their children leave home, the focus should not be to simply look for ways to occupy your time. Instead see this as a new chapter in your life that is affording you with newfound opportunities to focus on yourself – your needs, desires, and dreams, etc. Just as your children are heading into a new phase of their lives, so are you. In the same way that they will be introduced to new experiences, new people, and the chance to continue evolving, you too should be open to similar opportunities.

Time To Revisit Dreams You Put On Hold

Because parents typically place many of their personal interests, goals, and hobbies on the backburner in order to meet the needs and responsibilities that come along with being a good parent, your youngest child leaving home is the perfect opportunity to take stock in what you’ve left “simmering.”

Go On A Vacation: Perhaps there were trips that you wanted to take, but you couldn’t while the children were in school.

Go Back To School: Maybe you wanted to pursue a degree, but found it necessary to put that dream on hold.

Go Out A Little More: Or maybe you simply wanted to go out for a night on the town a couple of nights a week, but you didn’t think that kind of behavior was becoming of a parent with young children.

Time To Blaze New Trails

Regardless of what it might be, now is the time to not only revisit the aspects of your life that you put on hold to parent your children, but also to blaze some new trials as well.

The easiest way to begin doing this is simply by beginning to explore the world around you:

Explore: Spend some time online exploring some of the social meet-up groups in your area, the events that are happening throughout your city, and upcoming activities that you might be interested in attending.

Volunteer: You may also look for opportunities to volunteer some of your time with local civic organizatione.

Be Social: Lend a hand at your place of worship, or help organize a much-needed excursion (either by yourself, with your spouse, or with another group of empty-nesters) to a place that you’ve always wanted to visit. The possibilities are endless.

Time To Seek Out A Little Help

While this transition should be a time of excitement for you and your family, if you find that your feelings of sadness and depression become overwhelming for you, or you feel like these feelings aren’t passing, then you may want to consider talking with a professional about the emotions that you are experiencing. Left untreated, feelings of depression can become debilitating and consuming. Empty Nest Syndrome is a very real, and well recognized experience that affects millions of men and women every year, so don’t feel too embarrassed to do something about it if you believe that your child leaving home is too much for you to deal with on your own.

I wish you (and your family) all of the joy and happiness that your hearts and hands can hold as you all venture out onto the next phase of your journeys.


Spirit, BDO Contributing Writer