How You Can Best Survive the Empty-Nest Syndrome

It's normal to feel a sense of loss when your kids leave home

How You Can Best Survive the Empty-Nest Syndrome

This fall, many parents will go through the experience of seeing their young adult child leave home and head off to college. Whether it’s your first child to leave or the last one, things will definitely be different around the house once they are gone.

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Here, according to clinical psychologist Scott Bea, PsyD, are four things to keep in mind as you adjust to your new child-free world:

  1. Keep in mind that a sense of loss is normal. “The distress is real common,” Dr. Bea says. “Know that it’s going to pass.”
  2. Try short periods of separation before the big departure. “We get better at anything we practice,” Dr. Bea says. “So if we practice being apart from one another without trying to solve that too much in the early going, we are going to get used to it.”
  3. Practice detachment. It’s important to allow your children to be individuals, Dr. Bea says. So while it may be tempting to try to contact your child every day — which may give you some reassurance — it’s probably not the best thing for you or your child in the long run.
  4. Agree in advance on frequency of contact. It’s helpful for parents to agree on a game plan with their child before they leave on how often they will contact one another and how to reach each other in an emergency. This will set ground rules and give everyone peace of mind.

A positive development

If you are among those parents who are sending their youngest or their only child to college, there may be some good news.

Research has shown that many times, marital satisfaction improves for people who become empty-nesters, Dr. Bea says.

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“This is a good time for spouses to practice growing their own life together, while still being attentive to the needs of their child,” he says.

Even for people who are not married, this can be a new era of personal freedom, he says. Now you have time to take up or renew hobbies, re-connect with friends or focus on interests that your schedule didn’t permit while raising your child.

It’s important for parents to avoid isolating themselves during this time, Dr. Bea says. You can benefit greatly by connecting with someone who has gone through the same thing.

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“Try to make some contact with other people who have been in similar circumstances,” Dr. Bea says. “They can provide support by helping you feel more normal about some of the sentiments you’re experiencing. Through their experience, they also can help you to understand some of the feelings that your kids might be expressing.”

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