Psychotherapist Lori Dennis visited to talk with Chris about Empty Nest Syndrome and how to survive it!
What exactly is "Empty nest syndrome"?
Empty nest syndrome is a general feeling of emptiness or loneliness that parents may feel when one or more of their children leave home. The loneliness stems from a number of things including being stripped of one's identity as a full-time mom or dad, loss of purpose and meaning, as well as a sense of remorse or guilt caused by parents wondering "did I raise my children well enough, did I make enough home- cooked meals, will we stay connected to one another, etc".
Why is it often so hard to let go?
As parents, we spend a good portion of their lives as just that - parents! Whether our children have recently flown the coop for college, have moved out to get married or to get their own place, this is likely an emotional time. Many parents make light of the fact that they can't wait for their kids to be out of the house so they can finally enjoy some peace and quiet. But for any parent who has actually experienced the empty nest syndrome, relief and happiness may not be the resulting emotion. Many of us are overwhelmed with sadness, loneliness, worry, regrets and sometimes guilt, naturally asking ourselves: "Did I prepare them for the world?" "Did I spend enough time with them?" "How can I parent them now that they're grown?" "How am I going to fill that empty spot in my house and in my heart?"
TIPS TO SURVIVE EMPTY NEST SYNDROME:
DON'T BE A HELICOPTER PARENT
The time has come to stop hovering over your kids, micromanaging their lives, potentially crippling their self-esteem. Our job is to help them gain the confidence they need to know that they can handle whatever comes their way, on their own, without our intervention. Stop coddling them. Give them some space and allow them to make their own choices - and their own mistakes. That's how they will learn and thrive.
RENEGOTIATE YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH YOUR CHILD
Remember - your little girl is now a young adult and it's time to start treating her as such. Try to develop a more mature and perhaps even deeper connection. Respect her space, her need for independence. Find ways to connect that work well for both of you - weekly dinner, daily text message, weekly phone calls. Create a plan you can both agree on.
Above all, don't put guilt trips on your kids about how often they come home or call you. Their job is to create their own life - not to fill up yours.
RECONNECT WITH YOUR SPOUSE
Realize that you are each other's priority now. Resolve past hurts, learn new and positive ways to communicate, discover shared passions, develop rituals you can depend on. Commit to weekly date nights. Seek counseling if your empty nest marriage is showing signs of withdrawal, resentment, anger, alienation, and negativity.
Rediscover old hobbies and interests, develop new ones, reconnect with old friends, go back to work, take time for yourself. Get to know who you are, your strengths, interests, passions, ideals - apart from being a parent.
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