Is that young adult in your home packing suitcases and heading off for their first year of college? Or maybe there’s that bedroom you walk by sadly every day remembering how lovely the wedding was, but how empty that room is now. 

From college, to marriages, to a new out-of-town job, there are all kinds of reasons for why a child is no longer sharing that home with mom and dad. Whatever the cause, the emotions that parents experience when their children depart are often ones of sadness, loneliness and even depression.

The common term for this occurrence is “empty nest” syndrome. It’s based on the bird maturing and leaving the nest.  While we all want our children to grow up and live independent lives (no, Junior still living in the basement when he’s 37 is usually not anyone’s goal), it still can be difficult when the children are gone and the house suddenly seems much more empty.

While empty nest syndrome is not a clinical disorder or diagnosis, it is a transitional period in life that highlights loneliness and loss. Realizing that our son or daughter is now independent enough to be out there facing the world on his or her own can be bittersweet and emotionally challenging. We are proud that we have helped them grow and mature to be able to stand on their own two feet, but we’re also sad to see them gone and to realize that most of our hands-on parenting is no longer needed.

There are ways, however, to reduce the sadness and stress that might come with a child’s moving out. In today’s age of instant communication, simply staying in touch is easy and can ease the sense of being left behind. The goal, of course, is not to become a “helicopter parent,” constantly hovering and trying to be involved in the child’s every decision even though he or she may now be thousands of miles away.

Instead, try simply staying in touch, maybe with a weekly text or email or phone call. It can also help to talk with friends who have also had children leave the home. 

For some people, empty nest syndrome can be a real problem, leading to severe depression. In such cases, professional help can be valuable. Consider talking with a professional counselor who will be able to help you manage these difficult emotions.

“Counseling Corner” is provided by the American Counseling Association. Comments and questions to ACAcorner@counseling.org or visit the ACA website at www.counseling.org.

 

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