The term ‘empty nest syndrome’ may seem like a cute turn of phrase, but for those experiencing it, it’s a very difficult and emotionally challenging thing to cope with. Grief in its most classic definition comes from loss and loss does not always have to be a death. It can be the loss of a relationship, the loss of important routines and rituals or the loss of a dreamt about future. In the case of empty nest syndrome, sometimes all of these losses come at once and the remaining parent or parents live with a deep and unexpected loneliness.
As children leave home, your relationship with them inevitably changes. They will want to be more independent from you as they experience a new version of the world outside of the family unit. This means you will see less of them and they will need you much less than before – particularly challenging for women whose identity may have been shaped around the needs of their children. Family dinners are much quieter with less people around the table and finding inspiration for cooking is trickier if there is only 1 or two people to cook for. Many parents have aspirations for their children as adults too and suffer great disappointment when these are not realised. From lack of imagined grandchildren to children moving overseas, or becoming more heavily involved in the family of their partner – these are all things that create great difficulty for those left behind.
If you can deal with the challenges of empty nest syndrome however, there is a great opportunity for you to experience a whole new version of your life that you had not previously imagined. But first you must work out how to cope with the dramatic change from the life you have become so familiar with, to the new one that is now your reality. One of the first and most useful steps you can take is to downsize your property. Emptiness is magnified in a large space, so now that less space is needed on a day to day basis, you can think about selling up and investing the proceeds into the next stage of your life. It’s likely the value of your family home has increased during your ownership, so you can either rent it out to establish a passive income stream, or sell it to finance what you’ll do or where you’ll go next.
The title of ‘empty nester’ seems to cling only to those who remain in the family home long after the children have moved on. By taking the initiative and acknowledging that the change in their lifestyle can trigger a change in yours, you empower yourself to expand your horizons. Downsizing the family home can get the ball rolling on this as a ritual in itself. On the one hand, it provides a good distraction as you prepare the house for sale, sift through decades of family memories to reduce your ‘stuff’ and plan your next course of action. In addition, those processes provide a ritual that helps you to mark the transition, farewelling the family that was made up of babies and kids and teenagers and looking ahead to the new and improved adult family unit.
It’s perfectly reasonable to go through the transition period and grieve the dramatic changes to your life, however this can be done in positive ways that allow you to reflect on the joyful experiences you’ve had and start to imagine the new memories you can make.