To understand how to cope with empty nest syndrome so it does not turn into full blown depression, you first need to understand what it is. What is empty nest syndrome, and who does it affect?
Empty Nest Syndrome (ENS) is the term used to refer to feelings of sadness and identity loss that occur when grown children leave the family home. Mothers, or any parent who devotes most of their life, and their focus on raising children are extremely vulnerable to the feelings associated with ENS.
If you want to cope with ENS so it does not turn into full blown depression, you need to recognize the symptoms. So what are the symptoms of Empty Nest Syndrome?
Specific circumstances vary from family to family, and from person to person thus the experience and feelings will be different for each person. However, some of the feelings and emotions parents may encounter include the following:
Uselessness, or no longer having a purpose in life
(for example, if the relationship with the child was strained before he or she left)
If the above symptoms are not addressed and coped with, then, a parent may experience symptoms associated with clinical depression or adjustment disorder, including:
Fatigue or lack of drive
Inability to seek or derive pleasure
Changes in eating patterns
Excessive worry or anxiety
So here are some ways to cope with ENS so it does not turn into depression:
First and foremost as a parent you need to work to develop an individual identity outside of raising children BEFORE your children leave home. Parents, especially mothers, should identify individual interests and goals that don’t involve the family, and then make time for those ventures while they raise their children. So, if you love literature, join a book club and take the time for yourself to enjoy that while raising your children.
Next, if a parent is married, then the couple should focus on nurturing their own relationship, apart from their children, to ensure that their marriage prospers as their offspring leave home. This means make sure you do things together with no children there, set up a weekly date night. It also means talk about things together that do not have to do with the kids, your jobs, or finances. If you do not develop interests together before the kids leave home, it may be hard to do so afterward, and can lead to more severe ENS feeling.
The next thing to do is to prepare for the feelings you will likely feel when your children leave home. As a parent you should know what feelings to anticipate. These are natural feelings, and should not be suppressed, but rather recognized and moved past. So, it is okay to feel relived that you finally have time, privacy, etc. It is okay to be sad your child is gone, but happy for their future. It is okay to feel a little empty due to the absence of daily responsibility for the child. However, you need to fill any voids created. So, if you are feeling useless, volunteer. If you are bored, take up a hobby. If you are lonely, join a club or group.
If you start to feel like the void is widening, or that you are not getting past it and are unable to focus on the positive aspects of having an empty nest then it might be wise to seek some professional help. Talk to a therapist, or at least to your religious leader or spouse to get some help. You should be happy at this time, so take time to grieve the loss, as there is a small loss, then embrace the great future your child has, and the benefits to your personal life you will find at having the kids out of the house.