After the kids have left the house, it’s common–and normal–to feel lonely and sad. In parenthood, your children take up a lion’s share of your time and energy, thoughts and feelings, and it’s easy to have your identity as a person become one and the same as your identity as a parent. Empty nest syndrome isn’t so much a clinical diagnosis as it is a transitional period. When a child leaves, a once-bustling home can feel vacant, and although we wish the best for our children, letting go can be painful. If you find yourself having a hard time coping when your children leave home, here are four ways to defend against empty nest syndrome.
1. Start new family traditions
A pivotal moment for parents is when an unfamiliar silence seeps in, taking the place of the loud noises you never thought you’d miss. The realization of kids becoming adults dealing with their own busy schedules can be a grueling reminder of loneliness. Seeing one another may get harder, but it’s essential! One way to ensure regular family time is creating new family traditions. They are great excuse to see one another and take a break from your hectic lives. Creating new traditions doesn’t have to be a big ordeal, either. Think of a time or place where you and your family were happy. If you enjoyed camping when your children were growing up, organize an annual camping trip. Or, if your family loves autumn, consider hosting a fall dinner, an orchard day, or pumpkin picking. If you find yourself stuck, look at the family photo album for ideas.
2. Invite technology back to dinnertime
In the past, technology at the dinner table has been considered rude and unthinkable; after all, it’s infamous as a disruptor of family bonding. However, consider leveraging the technology we have available today for your family’s benefit. Staying connected has never been so easy with apps, social media, and smartphones. One app to try is Skype, which provides a free video chat service on your computer, phone, or tablet. While it may not be as good as talking in person, Skype and other video communication tools provide users with a way to communicate face-to-face over long distances. And if you’re social media savvy, or willing to give it a try, the many platforms have limitless communication applications and features. For example, Facebook allows you to have a group chat, video call, see life updates, and like or comment on posts all from the convenience of your smartphone.
3. Get involved with charitable causes
Volunteering is an incredibly rewarding activity that’s great way to keep empty nest syndrome at bay. Not only does it distract you and allow you to devote your energy to a cause you care about, but volunteering is also beneficial for your health, helping to counteract the effects of stress, anger, anxiety, and depression.
Volunteering with a local blood drive or fundraising for the community food pantry are great starting points. However, don’t limit yourself exclusively to organized events. There are ways to blend your passions with a worthy cause. For example, if you love gardening, look into developing or joining a community garden group. Or maybe you have valuable experience that could be beneficial for the community. For example, if you played sports in college, rekindle your love for the game by becoming a coach for a local team. Community events like these are a great place to meet new people with similar interests. Social support can be incredibly helpful during times of stress and loneliness, and self-care should be made a priority during difficult transitions.
4. Adopt a pet
Animals are known to be mood boosters that help ease the transition when kids move out. Studies have shown that playing with a dog or cat can elevate levels of serotonin and dopamine, which calm and relax your mind. Our furry friends also encourage us to stay active and exercise. If you have a cat try playing with wand toys, bubbles, and some cats will even let you walk them in a harness. If you have a dog try going on a few leisurely walks a day, playing catch, swimming, or going hiking. There are countless activities to do with a pets.
For most considering adding a pet, one of the biggest questions is whether to adopt or buy. The ASPCA estimates that 6.5 million companion animals enter shelters throughout the United States every year, and 3.2 million are adopted. However you get them, you can always count on a pet for an endless supply of fun, affection, and companionship.
In truth, being a parent will always be a big part of your day-to-day life. Although your role might change from parent to career counselor to relationship expert and even babysitter, what remains the same is the unconditional mutual love. When you feel the discomfort associated with empty nest syndrome tugging at your emotions, consider looking for opportunities and meaning in your personal life. Explore different hobbies you always wanted to try, meet new people, and have new experiences. Always remember that if your children are living prosperously, so should you.