Empty nest syndrome refers to the grief that many parents feel when their children move away from home. Empty nest syndrome can affect both parents, but mothers seem to be most often affected. Many mothers may have dedicated 20 years or more of their lives to bringing up their children. Motherhood is their primary role. Once the last child moves out, the mother may feel that her most important job is finished. She may feel worthless, disoriented, and unsure of what meaning her future may hold.
People who suffer the most from empty nest syndrome tend to have things in common, including:
For parents, this can be a time of strong feelings. Some experience joy, fulfillment, and relief. Others feel loneliness and anxiety, or a mixture of both good and bad feelings. Some couples enter a second honeymoon period. Single parents can now date without worrying about what their children think. Parents are free to focus on their own financial, emotional, and social needs.
For some parents, this time is marked by the pain of loss and the anxiety of letting go. They may find themselves asking: "What is my purpose in life?" "My work is done. Who needs me?" Or they may feel bitter: "Look what all my hard work has gotten me now."
Single parents may have an even harder time than couples. They may have to reinvent almost every aspect of their lives and may feel more alone than ever before.
If a parent and child were particularly close, they may have a hard time separating emotionally. If you find that all you think and talk about are your children, you may be hurting more than you realize. Remember that parents and children need to develop their own lives.
Being too distant can also present problems. You may be pushing your children away emotionally, perhaps because you are angry or resentful that they want to leave you. This can lead to lasting feelings of bitterness and anger.
You may feel guilty for not having spent more time with your children when they were home, and this guilt may stop you from paying attention to your own needs.
Change itself — whether moving, marriage, having children, or letting children go — is very hard, and it is normal to be confused and upset. Most parents adapt in 6 to 12 months. You can make things easier by doing some of the following:
While this is a normally difficult time, there are some warning signs that you may need help from a professional. You may need help if: