We explore the signs of empty nest syndrome and how you can manage this big life transition
Raising children and being a parent sets us up on a rollercoaster of emotions. One minute you’re feeling the joy and pride of seeing them thrive, the next you’re filled with worry, doubt, and frustration as they veer wildly off-track. A lot can be said about parenting… but no one can say it’s a boring endeavour.
Throughout the journey, there are a number of transitions. One that may take you by surprise is the day your child(ren) leaves home and, suddenly, you’re alone again.
“Some parents may find the departure of their child to school or university a relief, time to get their space back, and get on with the goals they’ve been holding back on during the years of parenting,” life coach Geraldine Macé explains. “For some, however, it leaves a big empty space that they have no idea how to fill – an empty nest.”
Empty nest syndrome is a term used to describe the grief, anxiety, and sadness some parents and caregivers feel at this time. Here are some signs to look out for:
A feeling some empty nesters may resonate with is being ‘redundant’. Geraldine notes, “Parents may be feeling incredibly sad with a loss of focus, spending hours on their own thinking back to the times they had with their child. Sometimes that can be with a sense of regret for the things that they did or didn’t do while their child was at home.”
Becoming a parent or caregiver changes your life in a huge way, often having an impact on your sense of identity. So it makes sense that, once you don’t have kids in the house to look after, you may feel a little lost.
Some empty nesters may also feel generally ‘off’, noticing a lack of motivation. Perhaps you think you should feel exhilarated now that you have more time to dedicate to yourself but, instead, you struggle to focus and lack the energy to do what you used to. The term languishing is used to articulate this sense of listlessness.
Using numbing techniques
“Other signs to look out for are using things to distract themselves so that they don’t have to think about how they feel, such as with food, drink, shopping, watching TV, gaming, or exercise,” Geraldine says. If you’re trying to distract yourself from the difficult emotions you’re feeling, this could be a sign of empty nest syndrome.
For some parents and caregivers, having an empty nest paves the way for some true relaxation, however, those experiencing empty nest syndrome may find this a struggle. Instead of being able to switch off, empty nesters may find themselves worrying about their child(ren) excessively, and unable to concentrate.
There are a range of feelings that can come up during this time, so you may notice your emotions are close to the surface. “As parents try to negotiate this transition, they may find themselves feeling more emotional than normal,” Geraldine explains. “Tears come readily, or they may find that they get angry more easily.”
Raising a family will likely have an impact on y