Coping with empty nest syndrome

Oct 6, 2013

Leaving home for the first time can be very stressful on a child. Whether they are moving away to college or relocating for a job, the process is one of change and readjustment. But the parents who raised that child often have an even more difficult time adjusting -- resulting in what is known as empty nest syndrome.

This week on Take Care, Kimberly Key talks about why empty nest syndrome develops, and how it can be used as a motivator to positively turn someone’s life around. Key is a psychotherapist and a nationally certified counselor who specializes in holistic human development and the founder of Encompass Work & Family, which helps people evolve through life’s stages.

Click 'Read More' to hear our interview with Kimberly Key.

Psychology Today defines empty nest syndrome as “feelings of depression, sadness, and/or grief experienced by parents and caregivers after children come of age and leave their childhood homes.” These feelings can range from mild to severe, to the point where the parent or caregiver feel that their useful life has ended.

While the reason for experiencing these feelings may not make sense to some people, for Key, the reason for developing empty nest syndrome is very clear. “For so long the goal had been ‘do what’s best for my child.’ And I think any good parent that really puts their kids first can’t help but have the moment of ‘what now?’”

Credit Mandy Jansen / Flickr

Key believes the shift from raising a child to having that child move out can be very profound, considering how centric raising that child was to the parent's everyday life.  “Why do we move into houses? We want our kid to have a backyard or we’re thinking about what’s a safe neighborhood for them, what’s a good school for them? How is their homework? We need to go to bed at this time, have dinner at this time. We create this structure,” says Key.

In other words, it’s not just daily routines that have existed for years that change when children move out, it’s the motivation for doing many things as well. The focus is no longer on the child, but on the parent themselves.

When it comes to coping with empty nest syndrome, the first thing Key points out is, “It takes time. That transition doesn’t happen overnight, it’s a process like all things.”

It’s also a process that Key believes can yield positive results as long as the mindset stays positive. “This is your time to birth your soul, and the focus gets to shift on you now. You kind of get to parent yourself, so that’s the opportunity.”

These opportunities can come in the form of picking up a hobby—whether it’s writing or a sport—or even changing career paths to one that generates more interest in the parent. “Do what works for you and trust your intuition,” says Key.