In theory, kids growing up and leaving home is an exciting prospect as you picture full futures ahead of them. In reality, for many parents, an empty nest can bring sadness, loss of meaning and purpose or anxiety about their children’s welfare.
According to the Australian Institute of Family Studies, young adults are living with their parents for longer than ever before, making it even more jarring for parents when children finally leave the family home. This is particularly true if you’ve lived together as adults for a long time, and have formed very established and familiar routines within the home.
While you might experience positive and proud feelings when children move on to start lives of their own, if you find yourself feeling rather spiritless or forlorn, you’re not alone. That’s why it has a name – the empty nest syndrome. And while it’s not a clinical disorder or diagnosis, it can still make you feel very down, with many saying they feel a deep sense of loneliness and loss of identity.
Dealing with these significant changes at home presents a good opportunity to start focusing more on yourself, your own hobbies, and your relationship.
Fortunately, these feelings are completely normal, and there are several ways to work through them.
Focus on your needs
As a parent, you’ve probably spent much of your life being a caregiver and putting your children’s needs before your own.
When a child leaves the ‘nest’, it’s the perfect opportunity to prioritise your own desires and interests, reclaim your time, and rediscover the things you enjoyed before having kids.
Prioritising yourself involves doing the things you love but didn’t always have time for. Think about the people you want to see more of, places you could go, books you’ve always wanted to read, restaurants you’re keen to try, and projects which have been pushed aside.
Make a list of everything you hope to achieve and give yourself permission to get excited about them.
Rekindle your relationship
As you likely experienced in the early stages of parenthood, romantic relationships can come up against some challenges during the transition into parenthood. But many people don’t realise it can also happen when your children fly the nest.
Once your children have moved out, it’s the ideal chance to reconnect and re-engage with your partner – emotionally, physically and intimately. Exploring why you fell in love with each other, while spending quality time together, is a wonderful way to revitalise your relationship and plan for your future. Especially now that almost any night can potentially be ‘date night’.
Rekindling your relationship doesn’t have to be elaborate or expensive. Small activities and gestures such as cooking together, going for walks, and showing affection are sometimes all that’s needed.
Take up new hobbies, learning and indulge in some self-care
According to Australian Seniors, 74.2% of empty nesters revelled in the extra time at their disposal for hobbies and leisure activities. Engaging in hobbies and life-long learning are great ways to enhance your health, reduce stress, and help you maintain a work-life balance.
If you’re keen to find new hobbies but don’t know where to start, have a think about what’s missing, what you’d like to do more of, and what new activities might meet your spiritual and physical needs. Ask friends for their advice, check out what local community groups and colleges have to offer, and consider things you haven’t tried before, but have always been curious about – such as running clubs, volunteering programmes and yoga classes.
When it comes to your partner, remember to take up hobbies as individuals and together. Having separate and shared interests will mean you’ve got something to connect and talk about, especially if things are feeling a little quieter around the house as you find yourself talking about the kids less.
Spend time volunteering or seek out a new community
Getting involved in your community can be hugely beneficial for you, your family and those around you. In turn, volunteering can teach you new skills, boost your confidence, give you a sense of purpose – something sufferers of empty nest syndrome report they’re lacking.
The scope of volunteering is endless: you could get involved with your local sports club, community garden, political party, library or help those most vulnerable. Then there’s animal shelters, new migrant groups, service organisations such as Lions Clubs and Rotary clubs, places of worship, learning programmes and much more.
For those who love the outdoors, many local councils offer local Bushcare Volunteer programs, which is a great way to get fresh air, learn more about the environment and conservation, and meet other like-minded people.
Prioritise quality family time
Just because your kids have moved out doesn’t mean you can’t see or chat to them regularly. This is just the next stage in fostering loving and respectful family relationships.
Organising weekly or fortnightly meals and outings will help strengthen family ties, communication, and allow continued bonding. Although you may miss them between meetings, seeing your kids build their own life – while letting them know you’re still there for them – can be wonderful and exciting.
They’re out of your house, but certainly not out of your life.