Empty Nest Syndrome is Real—Here’s How to Cope

Whether it's your first or last who's leaving home to go to college or university, this is an emotional time. Learn how to deal with the increased space and decreased demand on your time and skills as a parent.

Mandie Crawford is a Calgary-based behaviour consultant and president of Roaring Women Ltd., a women-in-business association. She has survived the empty nest several times, when her young children went to live with dad, then after they came back and left again as adults. “It’s never easy,” she says, “As parents we often bury ourselves so deep we forget to look at the big picture. I had to ask myself who I was apart from being a mother.”

Crawford, who teaches life skills and speaks about empowerment, advises parents to look at their empty nest as an opportunity. There is an undeniable feeling of emptiness once children leave and it is important to acknowledge it, she says.  But “the fact is there is also a much bigger community we belong to.”

Recognize there is no instant fix for empty nest syndrome

We are a quick-fix society, says Crawford. People want to feel better immediately and it just doesn’t work that way. Allow yourself to take all the time you need.

Reconnect with old friends and siblings

Crawford says that once their kids leave home, many adults tend to reestablish relationships with their own siblings. Your old allies can be your best allies in this new stage in your life.

Redefine yourself

We tend to go through life with labels that define what rather than who we are, says Gillian Leithman, who speaks to Montreal parents about the empty nest syndrome in her role with a retirement planning firm. She suggests you find out who you are beyond the title on your business cards and your role in your family.

Redevelop your relationship with your spouse

Take advantage of the increased time you have for each other, but recognize that the dynamics have changed and that while there are things you will do together, there are also things you will do apart, says Crawford. Talk openly about your expectations. Understand how you each view your relationship and find the balance between these two.

Find your passion

Take a course, volunteer, explore new hobbies or launch a new business. See your empty nest as the opportunity it is, advises Leithman.

Renegotiate your relationship with your child

Your baby might be gone but in her place is an adult with whom you can develop an equally strong but more mature and possibly deeper connection. Respect your child’s independence, says Leithman, and try to find new ways to connect: a date for lunch, perhaps a weekend trip together or maybe just a weekly chat via webcam.

Leithman says the best advice she can offer is to plan. This is a milestone event and preparation is everything. Interestingly, she finds that women tend to be more cognizant of this impending change and therefore better prepared. “Men don’t seem to acknowledge the transition as much and regret seems to be the major repercussion of that,” says Leithman.

Leithman also suggests that parents see this as the opportunity it is. “You have more time, more money,” she says. “Take advantage of it. Now your sole responsibility is you.”

Struggling with those “woulda, coulda, shoulda” thoughts? Don’t miss this expert advice on how to stop living in regret.