Coping with Empty Nest Syndrome: 15 Tips to Make Life Full Again

It's time to embrace this beautiful new chapter in your life

by Nancy Reynolds

This post: Coping with Empty Nest Syndrome: 15 Tips to Make Life Full Again

They say the two most difficult times of parenting are when you bring your baby home from the hospital and when your much bigger baby leaves the nest…

I’m here to tell you, at least in my opinion, the latter is far worse.

One minute you’re dashing between your kids’ sporting events, packing as much as humanly possible into your weekly calendar, making endless trips to the grocery store and harping on your kids about cleaning their disgustingly messy bedrooms and the next… it’s QUIET.

I’m talking a deafening silence that takes the breath right out of your lungs.

Empty Nest Syndrome is really just a fancy term to describe the agonizing heartbreak a parent feels when their last child leaves home. It can leave you feeling everything from sad, lonely and anxious to resentful, irritable and depressed. What it really boils down to, though, is suddenly you feel as though you’ve lost your sense of purpose. 

As an empty nester, the question that keeps looming in my mind is, “Now what?” It’s not like my job is finished – I’ll always be my children’s mom. But my job certainly isn’t what it used to be. My role is shifting and now I’m forced to find a new way of life that doesn’t put my children at the center of my universe. 

Having felt nearly every emotion humanly possible, I’ve realized I can’t waste a minute more of my precious life longing for the past. It’s time to pick up the pieces of my broken heart and embrace this new chapter in both my kids’ life and mine.

For every mom and dad who’s coping with Empty Nest Syndrome, here are a few things that worked for me to make my life full again. 

Coping with Empty Nest Syndrome: 15 Tips to Make Life Full Again

 

1. Take a Deep Breath

It’s okay to feel. This is a major transition in your life. In fact, the vast majority of parents, (dads, too), feel a huge sense of loss when their kids move on. Don’t let anyone or anything minimize your feelings – the grief your heart feels is very real. Take the time you need to regroup, but don’t forget to give yourself a pat on the back. You’ve raised an amazing, confident, capable child and that’s an incredible accomplishment. 

2. Remember: Your Role is Changing, Your Importance Hasn’t

Your child will always be your child and you will always be their mom or dad. That beautiful truth will never change. Sure, your role is shifting which requires you to step back and allow them to take the lead, but your importance and significance in your child’s life will remain steadfast forever. Trust me, your child will still call you and ask you questions about cooking or how to get a stain out or how to handle a car repair. They’ll still count on you, lean on you and come to you when life gets hard. You are and always will be their safe place to land. 

3. Make a Vow to Yourself 

I love Dr. Margaret Rutherford’s advice. As opposed to feeling victimized or drowning in memories of yesterday, “You have to choose, with intention, to let go.”

I will embrace this new chapter in my life.

I will not spend precious time longing for the past.

I will be grateful to see my child create a life of their own. 

I will not feel guilty for things I should have done better when my kids were in my tender care.

I will remember that this isn’t “the end.” It’s a beautiful new chapter both in my child’s life and mine. 

4. Spend Time with Friends Who Understand

Whether you grab a quick cup of coffee or invite them to lunch, reach out to friends or even acquaintances who recently had kids who flew the coop. Just having your feelings validated by someone who knows exactly what you’re feeling can be comforting. If you don’t have anyone to reach out to, join an empty nester Facebook page or follow an Instagram page that focuses on life as an empty nester. Don’t discount online friendships!

5. Make a List of Things That Make YOU Happy

For years, every waking moment has been focused on your kids. It’s time to shift your focus to YOU. Think about what makes you happy, what brings you peace, what inspires you, and what motivates you. This is your time to redirect your energy toward yourself. It’s been a long time coming and you deserve it. 

6. Create a Bucket List

Maybe you’ve contemplated going back to work, going back to school or starting a new career. Perhaps you’ve had your sights set on jumping into a new hobby, volunteering, taking a class or redecorating your house. Regardless of what it is, add it to your bucket list and make it happen so you have plenty of things to look forward to.

7. Plan a Trip

Sometimes, when life is hard, what you really need is a change of scenery. Head to the beach for a few days with girlfriends, take a cruise with your husband/wife or significant other or venture out on a road trip to see sights you’ve never seen before. Don’t sit around an empty, quiet house reminiscing about your kid’s childhood, plan a fun adventure!

8. Rekindle the Romance With Your Partner

If you’re like a lot of couples, your typical idea of “date night” over the last ten years was driving your kid(s) – and all their friends, of course- to Timbuktu and then waiting in a darkened car at midnight for them to come out while you struggled to stay awake.

Let’s face it, dating and romance falls by wayside when you’re in the thick of parenting. Now that your kids are building their own life, you and your significant other can finally focus on each other instead of the kids. That’s a good thing!

9. Give Yourself a Makeover

How we view ourselves when we look in the mirror speaks volumes about how we feel about ourselves and our overall self-confidence. When was the last time (ladies) you got a new haircut, got a mani/pedi, or updated your wardrobe? And men, the same goes for you! Why not throw away your ugly “dad shoes” and give yourself a wardrobe makeover? This is a new chapter in your life – embrace it. Grab the credit card (seriously, you deserve to splurge on yourself a little), hit the mall, beauty salon or spa and be good to yourself for a change. 

10. Focus on Your Health

I know, dragging yourself out of bed and heading to the gym at 7 a.m. might not be your favorite way to kickstart the day, but nothing will improve your overall outlook, energy and confidence more than physical exercise and eating healthily. (Join a class to meet people!) Plus, now that your kiddos are young adults, you’ll definitely want to play an active part in this next season of their lives. So, buy yourself a few new workout clothes, grab your water bottle, and get moving!

11. Focus on the Positives

Look at it this way… when you wake up and grab yourself a cup of coffee, you won’t be greeted by a pile of dirty dishes left in the sink by your midnight snacker.

You won’t be spending hours upon hours every weekend doing laundry trying to get unidentifiable stains out of your kids’ clothes. You won’t be nagging them about their messy bedroom, arguing with them about curfew or constantly reminding them to pick up their wet towels off the floor. As much as you’re going to miss certain things, there are also plenty of things you likely won’t miss. 

12. Find Ways to Stay Connected to Your Kids

When my kids left for college, I was convinced my daily interaction with them would dwindle. But that wasn’t the case at all. Thanks to technology, we’re either talking on the phone, texting, FaceTiming, or sending Snapchats. In fact, there are plenty of days we actually talk more than we did when they were living at home. The bottom line is, the miles don’t have to come between you and your child.

13. Consider Starting Anew

Maybe it’s time for a big change in your life. Maybe your house carries with it the memory of kids running through the house and laughter and messy bedrooms and backpacks piled on the counter. Maybe the house is too big, too quiet, too much responsibility. 

Moving may not be the perfect choice for everyone, but for a lot of empty nesters, it’s exactly the breath of fresh air they need. It’s a chance to move into a home that suits your new lifestyle, to wipe the slate clean and choose a whole new decor, to look toward your future and decide where and how you want to spend your days ahead.

14. Go Easy On Yourself

Adjusting to this new norm in your life takes time. One study found that it takes parents on average three months to adjust to life as an empty nester. There will be days you totally rock empty nester life and other days when you’ll feel like the wind has been knocked out of your sails. It’s okay. Just give yourself plenty of grace. 

15. Reach Out For Help, If Needed

If you feel yourself sinking into depression or experiencing extreme anxiety as you settle into your new norm, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Everyone needs help every now and then. Talk with your primary care physician who can offer suggestions, medication or possibly a referral to a therapist or counselor who can help make the transition easier. 

I won’t tell you that being an empty nester is easy. I won’t tell you that the transition will be painless. But what I can tell you is there’s light in the distance. You have so many precious and beautiful memories waiting to be made both in your life and your children’s lives. Yes, this is the end of one journey, but it’s also the beautiful new beginning of another. 

If you enjoyed reading, “Coping with Empty Nest Syndrome: 15 Tips to Make Your Life Full Again,” check out these other posts!

To My Precious Daughter Leaving for College: This is a New Chapter for Us Both

Off to College: 8 Important Talks to Have with Your Teen

College Move-In Day: 21 Tips to Make it Stress-Free and Fun

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