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Mental Health, Substance Abuse, and Eating Disorders
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Psychiatry & Psychotherapy
Mental Health, Substance Abuse, and Eating Disorders San Pedro and Long Beach California

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Coping with Empty Nest Syndrome when a Child Leaves Home

sf.Pomona-Run-1_It is a transition most parents will experience at some point in time and one that many face with bittersweet sentiment. Anxiety, worry, sadness and loss are just some of the feelings that parents are confronted with when their children leave home for the first time. Though most parents hope their children will grow up to be strong, independent and successful individuals, the process of letting go can be quite painful. By learning healthy ways of coping with empty nest syndrome, parents can more easily navigate this challenging season and learn to better accept the process.

Tips for Coping with Empty Nest Syndrome

Recognize Your Relationship is Changing – Not Fading

Nothing will ever change the relationship and bond you have established over the two decades your child has spent in your home. Realize that while your role and responsibility as a parent may be evolving, it is not disappearing. Your children will always need you in some capacity, though it may look different than it did while they lived at home. In the same way a teenager does not need the constant supervision of a toddler or the diaper changes of a newborn, your adult child will have decreasing needs as well. However, your child will still look to you for guidance, love and support as he or she navigates the exciting, but sometimes scary changes that come with growing up.

Be Proud of How Far You have Come

Instead of viewing a child’s departure from home as a loss, recognize it as an accomplishment instead. Be proud that you have raised goal-oriented children who are making decisions and taking proactive steps toward the life they want. Moving away from home is a sign of healthy growth and an indication that you have done your job to prepare your child to begin standing on his or her own two feet.

Start a New Chapter in Life

Whether your children have already left home or will do so in the next few months or years, it is never too early to begin preparing for the transition. Take time to start talking with your spouse about the future and some of the goals you would like to achieve together and individually. Plan a weekend away to rekindle your romance and get to know each other all over again.

It may also help to begin making a list of interests and hobbies you would like to expand upon, as well as other roles you would like to take on or better develop. Perhaps this means spending more time growing your business, volunteering with a charity or joining a shared interest group. Try to think of activities and pastimes you enjoyed before having children or come up with new ones that spark your interest.

Just be sure to take the transition slowly, avoiding any major changes all at once. Adapting to an empty nest takes time. Jumping into other major life changes simultaneously, like down-sizing to a new home, might complicate the adjustment process. 

Process Your Emotions

Remember that it is completely normal to feel grief when a child leaves home. Allow yourself to feel emotion, crying when you need to cry and talking when you need to talk. It may help to find support with other empty-nesters by discussing their own experiences with empty nest syndrome and how they were able to cope. Simply talking about your feelings and allowing yourself to feel the pain of a child leaving home is often enough to help bring closure to the situation and relieve the pressure of suppressed emotions. However, it is important to also press forward by maintaining normal routines and keeping up self-care.

Empty Nest Syndrome Linked to Increased Risk of Substance Abuse

Unfortunately, empty nest syndrome can produce severe consequences – especially for those who have found their sense of identity or purpose in raising or spending time with their children. Stay-at-home-mothers are especially vulnerable to these types of feelings, as they may struggle to fill the large void left by the constant presence and companionship of their children. The mental and physical exertion is only compounded when women at this age are also facing other major stress factors, such as aging parents, a looming retirement and menopause.

Research has shown that people who experience empty nest syndrome are at an increased risk of becoming depressed and turning to substances like prescription drugs or alcohol as a means of coping. When a person becomes dependent on substances to feel better, professional intervention is necessary. Signs of a potential drug or alcohol problem include:

  • Missing work, family gatherings or social functions due to the use of a substance
  • Increased conflict in relationships due to the use of a substance
  • Severe mood swings or irritability
  • Lack of motivation
  • Secretive behaviors, including unexplained financial problems or bank withdrawals
  • Changes in weight or appetite
  • Poor hygiene or appearance

If you or someone you know has turned to substances as a means of coping with empty nest syndrome, help is available. Regardless of how strong an addiction may be or how empty you may feel, the journey to sobriety can start today. Do not wait to get the help you deserve. Contact RecoveryNow, Inc. today for more information and to find out how you can take the first step toward a fulfilling and meaningful future.

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