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The Empty Nest Syndrome

Starting Your Next Chapter

by Kristin Cicciarelli | Contributor

Congratulations! Your child is ready to take off on his own. Perhaps he’s going to college, or beginning a new career or a relationship with a significant other. It’s time to pat yourself on the back for a worthy parental accomplishment. So, why don’t you feel like celebrating? And why are you spending most of your time with your eyes glued to your phone, hoping he’ll call or text you?

While “empty nest syndrome” has become an easily recognized term in our society, not everyone realizes that it can be associated with a profound sense of grief. Adding to that grief is the fact that empty nest syndrome often coincides with other major life events such as menopause, retirement and the need to care for elderly parents. A child leaving home naturally conjures feelings of loss and uncertainty. It is, after all, a significant change, and one that may require patience to accept. It takes time to regain your momentum, having gone from much-needed parent to once again, an independent person.

While both men and women are susceptible to empty nest syndrome, women seem to feel it more deeply, perhaps because of the strong, nurturing role most mothers provide. Suzanne Feiler, a therapist specializing in women’s issues at Insights Collaborative Therapy Group in Dallas, says, “I think it’s important for the empty nester to be intentional about the way she thinks about this new chapter in her life. Mindfully choosing a positive framework through which to understand and enjoy this radically new passage in your story is a powerful graduation gift to give yourself. You’ve completed a truly difficult task eighteen years in the making, so go ahead and allow yourself to feel the accomplishment.” Feiler also says that it’s a mother’s well-earned moment to finally return her nurturing focus back to herself, “after years of pouring vital energy and attention into someone else.”

If you’re married or in a long-term relationship, this is the perfect time to fully reconnect with your partner. Mark this passage with something bubbly and/or a special celebration. Mary Sanger, a marriage and family therapist and the founder of Insights, offers several ways for couples to deal with empty nest syndrome. “Give yourself and your partner things to look forward to, such as planning a few weekend trips, or starting a dinner or book club with other empty nesters,” she says. “Find old and new things to enjoy and share together. And if you’re considering downsizing, which many empty nesters do, try not to rush into it. Too much change in a short time span can be very psychologically stressful.”

Acknowledge your grief. Celebrate your accomplishment. Be gentle with yourself during this transition. And reach out to others to share your feelings, whether it’s your partner, a trusted friend or a therapist.

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