How to Deal With “Empty Nest Syndrome” When Kids Go to School

A psychologist shares tips on how to deal with empty nest anxiety. (Photo: Getty Creative stock photo)

Tapashi RabeyaSam’s only child, is just 17, but because he started school early, he will be leaving their New York home at the end of the summer to go to college at around seven. drive to Buffalo. For Rabeya, a divorced single mother who emigrated from Small Heath, England, around 18 years ago, Sam’s move not only marks her introduction to life as an empty nest, but also her first life alone, ever. . And while she’s excited about the friends, experiences and opportunities ahead for her son — “I’m going to live vicariously through him,” she says — she’s also worried about the changes ahead.

“The closer it gets, the more intimidating it can get,” Rabeya told Yahoo Life. “I try not to think about myself too much, but I feel a big empty hole in my chest. He’s my only child. I’ve invested everything in him.”

As degrees begin and young adults leave for colleges or other new adventures away from home, parents like Rabeya are going through what the clinical psychologist Monique Vermani calls it an “emotional roller coaster”.

“Empty nest syndrome is real,” she says, explaining that many parents can “feel lost” when their role as primary caregiver changes and the child who has so long depended on them for survival no longer no longer needs that level of support.

“You spend so much time and energy parenting that you lose some of your individuation and you lose some of your bond with your partner,” adds Vermani. “And when your child goes to school, it’s about feeling that change of, OK, I went from giving myself to this child and helping to raise him with the values ​​to be self-sufficient, and now I don’t know how I am without him..”

Trust that your child is ready

Given this role of instinctual caregiver, it is also natural for parents to worry not only about the uncertainty that awaits them, but also about the challenges their children may face. While Vermani notes there are perks to modern life — like technology that means your child is just a text or FaceTime call away, regardless of distance — the pandemic and recent times social unrest added a layer of complexity to the usual concerns about, for example, getting good grades or making new friends. Are they safe? How’s their mental health? What kind of future awaits us?

As parents, it’s important to offer support when needed without trying to control everything. A little confidence goes a long way.

“The situation is always difficult for the parents,” says Vermani. “We are raising these children who were dependent on us for their survival, and now they want to be individuals independent of us. So it is also about cutting the cord, working on our own anxiety and believing that we have been given the tools. and the skills and values ​​of our children that they can be good human beings who contribute to society and live their own lives.As parents, we must always remember that our children are in our company so that we give us the tools and the skills to be good people.”

Vered DeLeeuwa twice empty nest with two daughters at university, recalls a line from a parenting book by British child psychologist Penelope Leach, to the effect that “your job as a parent is to get you out of the picture – slowly.”

It’s a feeling DeLeeuw has always found “powerful.” But while she had no fears that her eldest daughter would be groomed for college life on the other side of the country, it was the young woman’s absence that caused DeLeeuw to grapple with feelings of anxiety followed by a few months of “deep sadness” after the move itself. . She remembers crying every time she passed her daughter’s empty room.

“You lose a part of yourself when a child moves out,” says DeLeeuw.

Over time, however, she began to adjust to her daughter’s absence; “People are more resilient than they think,” says DeLeeuw. And despite her anticipation of reliving those emotions when her youngest daughter left for college — officially cementing her and her husband like empty nests — it turned out to be a “much easier” transition, she says. .

Explore new roles

The loss of this longstanding role of caregiver can cause many parents to panic. But Vermani sees it as an opportunity to reidentify who you are and make the most of this new time. This could involve traveling, volunteering, changing careers, or pursuing a passion that has been put on the back burner as raising children has taken over. For DeLeeuw, having time to reconnect with her husband was “liberating,” and she is now able to accompany him on the business trips she spent years missing due to her responsibilities at home.

While Rabeya is single, she found a new friendship before her son moved to school: her very first roommate who is not a family member. “We’re spending girl time on the couch — I’ve never experienced that in my life,” she raves about renting a room from a flight attendant in her New York home. In addition to a new business, she also has a new business. Rabeya recently opened the Consignment Hybrid Vintage in Brooklyn, a labor of love that she considers an exciting use of her energy and time as an empty nest.

“I gave birth to what I feel like a brand new baby,” she says.

Find support

The life of empty nesting can be exciting, but like any change, it’s also daunting. Vermani says it’s important for parents to give each other grace if they’re having trouble during this time.

“Be nice to yourself,” she says. “What you are feeling is very common and you should not feel guilty, embarrassed or weak for feeling this way. Feelings of sadness and anxiety during this transitional phase of life are completely normal.”

Empty nest support groups can help, but parents who feel overwhelmed by their sad or anxious feelings should consider seeing a mental health professional, she advises.

Stay connected remotely

Planning family outings or one-on-one outings before a child leaves home is a good way to bond and make the most of the time left, although parents should keep keep in mind that their children may also have social obligations with friends they want to hang out with.

Once school starts, Vermani advises finding a way to keep in touch without being pushy. A weekly check-in gives parents something to look forward to and will hopefully quell the urge to constantly call. She also recommends that parents avoid focusing on their children’s social media feeds. Parents should make it clear that they are available for support as their young adults embark on this new chapter, while respecting their independence and autonomy.

“Allow them to establish their new phase of their lives on their terms,” Vermani says. “Follow their example. Let them show you the level of support they need.

“Appreciate and be proud to see your child move forward in life,” she adds. “Remember how important this changing phase of life was to you and show your child that you have faith in their abilities – enough faith to allow them autonomy and freedom to grow and flourish in their new roles and routines.”

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