Empty Nest Syndrome

People want their children to grow up and lead independent lives. Yet parents often feel lonely, sad, and filled with grief when their children depart.

Definition

Grief, depression, a loss of purpose, or sadness are real and may be experienced when children enter their own relationships or when they start their college careers. Women normally suffer more than men do. Also, the feelings of sadness are more pronounced among women who worked as full-time mothers. In addition, other milestones such as menopause and caring for elderly parents impact the feelings of depression. However, this does not mean that men are not affected. They are impacted, especially if there is a stressful life event taking pace, such as retirement or illness in the family.

Empty nest syndrome is not a clinical disorder or diagnosis. It is a transitional period in life that highlights loneliness and loss. Parents want to encourage their children to grow into independent adults. However, the experience isn’t always pleasant.

Symptoms

The individual may feel:

  • Sadness
  • Loss
  • Depression
  • Loneliness
  • Distress
  • A loss of purpose and meaning in life

Professional help is recommended if the parent is crying excessively and for long periods. Special attention must be made if daily life and work are impeded.

Causes

If the parent and child suffered a relationship of conflict, detachment, or hostility, departure of the child is highlighted and both parent and child may suffer more. The best outcome includes a meaningful relationship and support between all individuals. Positivity in relationships gives all parties a better chance at healthy interaction, which is necessary for young adults moving toward independence, as well as parents who are advancing in age.

Treatments

Treatment with a health-care practitioner may be recommended if loneliness, depression, and or sadness are in any way overwhelming the individual. Psychotherapy is beneficial when managing the symptoms. A health professional may even recommend prescription medications.

Yet coping with empty nest may be simple. A parent can keep in touch with their child via weekly text, email, or phone calls. In times of stress and loneliness, reaching out for social support can also be helpful. In addition, diligent self-care—in the form of a healthy diet, plenty of sleep, exercise, and downtime—is recommended.

Instead of focusing attention on the child’s departure, some people cope with the transition through hobbies, travel, friendships, and career or education goals.

One’s identity may need to be reshaped, from parent of a child to parent of an adult child, and such an adjustment takes time.

References

  • Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition
  • National Institutes of Health

Last reviewed 02/14/2019