by Christina Showalter, MA, LCPC
When children leave the house – whether for college, employment or relationship – it can leave an uncomfortable silence in the house. You likely expected the quiet, even looked forward to it, but for many the empty house results in feelings of loneliness and loss.
For many parents, adjusting to life without kids at home can create a crisis of identity and can stress an otherwise happy marriage. The sudden change from ‘go-go-go’ to being home alone can be difficult to cope with and awkward to navigate. This shift can lead to other emotions including nostalgia, abandonment and even guilt.
There are a few strategies that parents can use to make the empty nest a more positive experience by helping you to reestablish your identity within your marriage, friendships, community, and newly empty home.
- Refocus priorities and rediscover dreams. Spend time individually and as a couple to prioritize how to spend your time. No longer spending Friday nights at football games, traveling on weekends for band competitions, or volunteering at school fundraisers will leave you with plenty of free time. Rediscover what brings you joy, revisit what dreams you may have put on a shelf while raising children and explore new activities.
- Find community. Sharing positive experiences with others who share your values and interests supports feelings of self-worth and limits loneliness. Invest yourself in groups with activities and causes you feel passionate about and determine how your skills can support the group. Sign up to be a discussion leader for a book club. Regularly volunteer at a local food pantry. Take on a new role within your religious congregation. Seek to regularly engage with others in these environments to establish relationships and that are supportive and meaningful.
- Date your spouse. Apart from rediscovering your own identity, be purposeful to have fun, quality time as a couple. Not since your relationship before children have you had the opportunity to get to know each other with an exciting new perspective. Try new things together and create experiences that you will both enjoy.
Don’t be discouraged by the natural feelings that come with an empty nest. Be open about this transition and talk to your spouse, friends, and a professional counselor for support. This can be a positive time of change and personal renewal that results in improved relationships and feelings of value.