When you have children, one day you’re feeding them in a high chair and the next thing you know you’re getting ready to send them off to college. When the time comes for your last or only child to leave the nest, you may have mixed feelings. Although you may have dreamed of this day during tough times, when it finally comes it can feel bittersweet. While it can be a difficult transition, there are many ways to help yourself thrive now that you have an empty nest.
1. Remember You’re Still Needed
Accept that your feelings are normal and valid. When kids leave home, some parents feel like their job is done and they’re no longer needed. However, there is still plenty of room for you in their lives, your role might just change a little bit. In fact, this is a great sign that you’ve successfully raised a well-adjusted child if they’re requiring very little actual parenting. Instead, your role may transition into being more of a mentor.
“It’s common for parents to find letting go to be a painful experience ─ even though they actively encourage their children to be independent,” said Dr. Jessica Sosso, Family Medicine, Mayo Clinic Health System. “Parents might find it difficult to suddenly have no children at home who need their care. They might miss being a part of their children’s daily lives and their constant companionship. Parents with only one child or those who strongly identify with their role as a parent might have a particularly difficult time adjusting.”
Utilize technology to keep up with your kids. Texting, sending photos and videos, and video chatting can help you feel more included and up-to-date on their lives.
2. Enjoy a New Hobby or Job
Taking kids to soccer practice, dance classes, piano lessons, and more can fill up our schedules for years. Now that you’re no longer required to spend your Saturdays sitting at tournaments all day, you finally have time to take up some hobbies of your own! Think about the things that you’ve always wanted to try like art or yoga or things you did before you had kids like volunteering at an animal shelter, hiking, and group classes. Or, if you don’t currently have a job, look into returning to a career you once loved or working somewhere that ignites your passions.
“If your last child will soon be leaving home, planning ahead can help keep empty nest syndrome at bay,” said Dr. Sosso. “Look for new opportunities in your personal and professional life. Keeping busy or taking on new challenges at work or home can help ease the sense of loss.”
3. Reconnect with Your Spouse
Our kids have a tendency to become our whole world. When they leave, sometimes we look at our spouse and forget what we talked about before we had them. Recent studies suggest that an empty nest might reduce work and family conflicts. If you and your spouse ever had tension because of differences in parenting, an empty nest may encourage a happier home. Take this opportunity to reconnect with your spouse and rekindle the mutual interests you enjoy but haven’t been able to do since your children arrived. If you aren't married, this could be the ideal time to dip your toe into the dating pool.
4. Plan a Trip
A survey of nearly 500 American adults found that travel enhanced their energy, focus, attention, and even empathy. A trip near or far can be a welcome distraction from the life changes that are happening. If you and your spouse always talked about exploring a nearby city or finally going abroad, now is your chance to make it happen. Plus, this is another great way to reconnect to your spouse as you return to a “party of two.” Some psychologists say that getting out of the house and going somewhere can positively affect your mental health, like making you feel lighter and more full of hope.
5. Prioritize Your Health
Keeping your children on a schedule for dental and doctor visits can sometimes cause you to put your needs on the back burner. Take this time to schedule your annual checkup, get that dental work done, and prioritize your mental and physical health.
If your eating habits got esque with your kids’ busy schedule, now you can get back to cooking healthy meals and enjoying foods they may not have been so keen about. As the seasons begin to change, incorporate supplements like vitamin D into your routine to maintain optimal health. Vitamin D specifically is a nutrient that is vital for the body to absorb calcium; it also has antioxidant properties and supports normal neurological, immune, and inflammatory responses.
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Dorfner, Micah. “How you can enjoy the empty nest.” Mayo Clinic. 2017.
Gordon, Sherri. “How to Re-Feather Your Empty Nest.” Very Well Family. 2021.
Mayo Clinic Staff. “Vitamin D.” Mayo Clinic. 2021.