How to Re-Feather Your Empty Nest

mature parents looking thoughtful

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When it comes to parenting, it's not uncommon for a large part of a person's identity to be wrapped up in that role. In fact, many parents would describe parenting as the most important, challenging, time-consuming, and meaningful thing they will ever do. But it also goes by so quickly.

One day you're changing diapers and the next you're watching your senior graduate from high school. For 18 years or more, your life has revolved around carpools, homework, and extracurricular activities. And then, all of a sudden, the day-to-day aspects of that role change dramatically when you drop your teen off at college.

Not surprisingly, many parents experience a profound sense of loss and uncertainty when their last—or their only—child leaves the nest. Even though the ultimate goal of parenting is to raise healthy independent young adults, this transition is still challenging and sometimes even heartbreaking leaving many parents struggling with empty nest syndrome.

For this reason, parents need to prepare for this inevitable transition by looking for ways to add meaning to their lives—especially if much of their identity was wrapped up in parenting their kids. If you're struggling with this new season in your life, here are some ways you can address empty nest syndrome and breathe new life into your home.

Recognize Parenting Is Still Needed

Perhaps the biggest thing that parents struggle with is believing that their job is done or that they are no longer needed in their child's life. This is a far cry from the truth, though. Even when your kids are out of the house, they still need you.

And, if they are still in college, they will likely be home from time to time. So, rather than assuming your role is complete, recognize that you still have a lot of parenting left to do. While it may look more like mentoring than parenting, it's still important. Stay connected with your young adult and look for ways to support them in their adventures.

Allow Yourself to Cry

Wanting to cry when your children leave the nest is a normal reaction. Rather than deny your feelings or try to keep it bottled up, it's important to honor your feelings. Allow yourself to feel sad and grieve over the changes that are taking place. This experience is normal, but won't last long as you adjust to your new role.

Also, be sure to go easy on yourself. You have never been in this stage of parenting before, so it's normal to feel empty and uncertain. The key is to acknowledge those feelings and allow yourself to experience them without remaining there indefinitely. Eventually, the sadness will go away as you adjust to your new reality.

Rekindle Things With Your Partner

It's not uncommon for your marriage to get pushed to the back burner when you're in the thick of raising kids. Now that your nest is empty, it's the perfect time to focus on your relationship again. While it may take a bit of an adjustment to be alone together for such large chunks of time, it will be great for you both in the long run. Set aside time to do things together and include date nights into your plans.

Unfortunately, some marriages may become stagnant without the kids there to hold you together. In fact, about 25 percent of divorces in the U.S. occur when couples reach the kids-to-college stage in their marriage. If you find yourself in this situation, reach out to a professional who can help you process your feelings and address your conflicts. With time and effort, you can rekindle your romance and deepen your connection.

Pursue Your Interests

Parenting is time consuming, so it's highly likely that you neglected your interests and hobbies in order to focus on your family. But after years of putting everyone else's needs above your own, you finally have time to focus on the things you enjoy. Embrace this opportunity.

If you aren't sure what your interests are, take this time to explore new things. Start by creating a dream list of things you have always wanted to do or try but couldn't because of other commitments in your life. You may find that you want to take a cooking class, learn to paint using watercolors, or go back to school. The options are endless, so get creative.

Reconnect With Friends

Parenting leaves little time for spending time in social settings, but now that your children have left the nest, you will have more time for getting coffee, having lunch, and even grabbing dinner with your friends. Make an effort to get some things on the calendar. Doing so will give you something to look forward to.

You should also make an effort to reach out to friends on a regular basis. Text to check in or give them a call, especially if they are entering the same life stage that you are. It helps to talk to someone experiencing the same things. Together, you can support one another as well as share tips on what works and what doesn't.

Plus, research suggests that social connections have a positive impact on your health. In addition to reducing harmful stress levels, connecting with friends can trigger the release of stress-reducing hormones.

Plan a Trip

Sometimes what you need to cope with the changes in your life is a change of scenery. Whether you plan a vacation or a day trip to a nearby community, getting out and doing something different has a way of making people feel lighter and more full of hope.

In fact, some psychologists indicate that traveling somewhere new has a number of mental health benefits. One survey of nearly 500 adults in the U.S. found that travel enhanced energy, focus, attention, and even empathy. Meanwhile, other research suggests that traveling—especially experiencing foreign cultures—facilitates creativity.

Reach Out for Help

It's not uncommon for people to feel stressed, anxious, or even depressed when their kids move out. If you're feeling a sense of loss, you are not alone. Allow yourself to grieve and feel sad. Many people also experience other transitions around the same time their kids move out like retirement, menopause, or an elderly parent that now needs care, so these changes can add to your stress and anxiety levels.

Remember, when your long-held roles change, it is bound to require some adjustment. If you are struggling to adjust, feel like crying all the time, or just can't shake feeling down, you may want to contact a mental health professional who can help you process your feelings and offer support. With some patience and self-care you can embrace your empty nest with enthusiasm and hope.

A Word From Verywell

Having an empty nest catches most parents by surprise, even though they know it's coming. To most, it seems like one minute you're worried about naps and picking preschools and the next you're dropping your child off at college and preparing yourself to say goodbye.

If you find yourself in this situation, take a deep breath and relax. While this new season in your life will take some getting used to, it can also be a time of great growth and exploration. Sure, you will have days when all you feel like doing is crying, but as the days go by, soon you will be relishing the fact that you get to do some things you didn't have time for in the past. What's more, you will still be parenting your kids, just in a much different way now.

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