Surviving the Empty Nest: A Guide for Parents
By William Burns, director of counseling
The last child in the house has left for college and you are now alone
with your partner, or all by yourself. How are you feeling? What can
you do to make this transition as successful as possible?
The feelings that arise when the last child leaves home have been
described as the "empty nest syndrome." These feelings can
affect each individual parent, a couple's marriage, and how the parents
interact with the child who has recently left home.
How parents react can vary dramatically. Some experience joy, fulfillment
and relief. They may see a new world of opportunity opening up before
them. They are now free to focus on their own needs. They are free
to do things they may not have been able to do for 18 years. Other
parents will feel the pain of loss and the anxiety of letting go. They
may find themselves asking, "My work is done. Now what?" Or, "What
is my purpose in life?"
This transition can also have a dramatic effect on parents’ romantic
relationships. Some couples enter a second honeymoon period, while
others end their marriage. Single parents may have an even harder time
than couples; they may need to reinvent almost every aspect of their
lives and they may feel more alone than ever before. On a brighter
note, single parents are now able to date without worrying about how
their children will react each time they go out.
No matter what you are feeling, dealing with change can be hard.
Here are some tips to help you successfully make it through this time
in your life:
Finally, if after several months you are still feeling unhappy, anxious,
and not able to do things up to your normal standards, consider professional
help. Talking about your feelings with a mental health professional could
be just what you need to move on to a happy and successful future.
- Realize that a change has occurred and that you are probably going
to have to deal with feelings that you have not had before.
- Recognize that having strong feelings about your child's leaving
home is normal – allow yourself to feel whatever emotions arise.
- Talk to someone about your feelings. If you are married, talk to
your spouse – she or he may be feeling the same things you
- Single parents should plan on having someone to lean on for a few
weeks – have a trusted friend be there for support.
- Take care of yourself. Develop a "wellness" goal. Start
an exercise program. Get yourself up and moving, rather than sitting
and worrying about the change that has taken place.
- Find a new creative outlet.
- If you have been putting off dealing with problems in your marriage
until the children left home, start now.