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CARE

How to cope when kids fly the coop

When the last child moves away from home for college or other opportunities, many parents experience mild depression, anxiety and even an identity crisis during this time. While not a clinical diagnosis, this is called "empty-nest syndrome" and is completely normal.

My husband and I recently went through this when our son, who is the youngest of four, left for college. Here are a few tips to help you make the transition from a home with children to one without. 

Prepare mentally, emotionally and physically. Teach life skills (cooking, laundry, etc.) to your child so you'll both feel more prepared when your child is in the real world without you. Talk to your son or daughter about the transition and how you will plan to stay in touch. Create a plan of how (phone, text, video chats, emails) and when (every few days, once a week, etc.) you will connect. A little old-fashioned, but I found sending cards and letters to be very therapeutic.

Pace yourself. Don't make big changes too soon. Hold off remodeling your child's room. Give everyone time to settle in and adjust before you start to throw things out. Wait until you and your child are in a good frame of mind—you never know what keepsake or seemingly ordinary item holds special value to your child until you throw it out.

Seek support. Talk about what you are thinking and feeling and share your experiences. Many of your friends, family or medical provider may have already experienced this. They can be a supportive ear and a good resource for you. 

Focus on yourself. After years of putting your attention to your child or children, now is the time to find new or renewed hobbies. Start to follow a sports team, take a class or travel. Stay healthy and get active as exercise relieves stress and is very therapeutic (increases serotonin). Concentrate on you and the things you like to do.

Re-energize your relationships. This is a great time to renew and deepen existing relationships. Make a point to spend more quality time with family and friends. Have fun building new interests together. 

Remember, this is a period of adjustment and you need to give yourself time. If your depression or anxiety worsens, seek medical care. Your provider is there to meet all your personal and family needs.  

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