When your children leave home, it can feel bittersweet. You’re happy for them and excited for their future. But you’re also overwhelmed, wondering what comes next for you. Could you be experiencing empty nest syndrome?
What is Empty Nest Syndrome?
Almost half of all parents in the UK say they have experienced empty nest syndrome at some point in their lives. Most empty nest syndrome definitions refer to the emotional turmoil that parents experience when their children leave home, in particular the feelings of grief, distress, loss, and anxiety.
This transitional period can be challenging for many parents, with research suggesting that the experience may lead to a variety of mental health issues, including depression and anxiety – impacting both men and women.
Is Empty Nest Syndrome Real?
There is no official diagnosis of empty nest syndrome meaning it is not a recognised medical or psychiatric health condition – however, that doesn’t make it any less real. While not a clinical diagnosis, it is a widely accepted term that many parents and professionals alike are familiar with.
Causes of empty nest syndrome typically include children moving into their own place, going to university, getting married, or leaving to start a new job or go travelling.
However, the feeling of an ‘empty nest’ can be exacerbated by other difficulties, making some parents more susceptible to it than others. This includes people already experiencing difficulties in their relationships (such as marriage issues), single parents, or people who parent full-time.
What Does Empty Nest Syndrome Feel Like?
There are a few key symptoms that can be associated with empty nest syndrome. Everyone experiences it differently. For some people, change can be energising, while other people can find it unsettling and stressful.
You may find that you and your partner or your friends have different symptoms, or that they seem fine, while you’re having a tougher time coping.
Loss of Purpose
From school-runs, to seeing friends, to cooking meals and keeping on top of housework – raising children can be a full-time job. For many parents this means structuring their days around their children’s needs.
But, when children leave home, some parents suddenly find their days feeling empty. You may feel like you’ve lost your purpose and are unsure how to fill your days now that your children have moved out.
Sadness and Grief
Alongside feeling like you’ve lost your purpose, you may be feeling sadness or grief. While moving out of the home is a natural part of growing up for your child, it can be tough to see them go.
You might pass by their old room or find an item that belongs to them and feel tearful – even if you only spoke to them on the phone this morning.
Feeling so many complex emotions might also leave you feeling restless. You may not be able to focus like you used to, or you may find you have a difficult time relaxing.
When our brain’s emotional centres are fired up, we can find it hard to unwind. Some people fear that if they take a moment to pause, their worries and negative feelings might catch up with them.
Fear and Anxiety
You might find yourself preoccupied with your child’s wellbeing now that they’ve left home. What are they doing on a day-to-day basis? Are they safe, and happy?
You may also find you’re experiencing some anxiety about your own circumstances. You may be anxious about what your future holds and be fearful of so much uncertainty.
The symptoms of empty nest syndrome aren’t always negative; some parents feel relief, or even an element of excitement for the next chapter in their journey, and what this new independence could bring.
The combination of both positive and negative emotions may leave you feeling confused or distressed. One minute you’re relishing your newfound freedom, and the next you’re overwhelmed with loneliness – which can be exhausting.
Coping with Empty Nest Syndrome
Empty nest syndrome can be challenging to deal with. It may last a few weeks, while for others, it can last a few months.
A study of 2,000 empty nesters found that, on average, it takes about 3 months and 14 days to recover from empty nest syndrome. But no matter how long your feelings like this last, it’s important to find ways to cope in the meantime.
As difficult as it is, there are some things you can do to help cope with the symptoms of empty nest syndrome.
- Reconnect with yourself. Cast your mind back to your life before you became a parent. What kind of things did you enjoy doing? Parenting can be full-on, and you may find that there are some things you once enjoyed doing, that you’ve since let slip. Perhaps you can pick up an old hobby or try your hand at something new. It might even be time to take that long-delayed holiday!
- Establish new social connections. Now’s the time to draw on your support network and get in touch with old friends. As a parent, you probably barely had any time for yourself – let alone others. Take this an opportunity to rejuvenate your social life. After all, laughter is the best medicine!
- Make time for self-care. The next few months might be tough, which is why it’s important to take care of yourself. With the kids out of the home, this can be the perfect time for some self-care. Find time for mindfulness. Treat yourself to massages. Take long walks in the outdoors. Make the most of your newfound freedom and invest in your wellbeing.
- Revitalise your relationship. If you have a partner, now may be the time to focus on bonding with them. This is the perfect opportunity to reconnect with your partner and reignite the romance, without having to worry about the kids. It’s time to make more memories with just the two of you, from planning date nights, to finding new activities and experiences you can enjoy together.
- Know when to seek help. Coming to terms with this new phase in your life can be challenging. If your empty nest syndrome symptoms are severe, or feel like they’re not getting any better, you may want to seek professional guidance. You may benefit from grief support or therapy, from a trained counsellor who specialises in empty nest syndrome UK.
Consider a Career in Fostering
Some parents feel like they aren’t ready to give up parenting. Caring for children is something they deeply enjoy, and they’re unsure how to translate the skills they’ve learned from parenting into a fulfilling career.
Fortunately, fostering can provide empty nesters with the opportunity to continue making a difference to children’s lives.
There are currently over 80,850 children living in care in the UK. They may not be able to live with their birth family due to abuse or neglect and would benefit greatly from the support and stability that a family home can provide.
That’s where our brilliant foster carers step in. Our foster families help give our children a childhood, providing them with a warm, loving, and caring home and supporting them to secure better futures.
Empty nesters make excellent foster carers because of the skills and experience they’ve already gained through their years of parenting. In fact, nearly 6% of our foster carers turned to fostering because ‘they didn’t feel done with parenting’, while 34% said they chose fostering because they cared about children and wanted to help them.
If you’re looking to put your parenting skills to use and want to make a difference to vulnerable children, consider a career in fostering. Being a foster carer can be incredibly fulfilling, as you’ll witness first-hand the impact of your work on children’s lives.