Top ways to deal with empty-nest syndrome

When our children leave home, for some it can be a relief, and for others it can cause deep sadness. Known as the empty-nest syndrome, it is a common complaint when grown children leave the family home.

There are a variety of reasons for parents feeling the sharp pangs of loss when a child leaves. Firstly, the absence of a child tears the fabric surrounding home routine. And within that routine, parents are often wedded to well-defined ideas of what their role is and the way they should go about it.

The Australian Seniors Series: Empty Nesters research, which surveyed 1,000 people over 50, found there was a pretty even split – 41% were sad to see children fly the nest, but 51% greeted the milestone with happiness.

Stay-at-home parents are vulnerable to empty-nest syndrome 

The most vulnerable parents, it seems, are stay-at-home mothers who have limited engagement outside the home and their children, and they are even more vulnerable if they’re uncomfortable with change, or see change negatively.

“It’s a very complicated time for a lot of parents,” explains clinical psychologist Elisabeth Shaw, CEO of Relationships Australia NSW. “It affects both mothers and fathers, but it’s true that it seems to affect mothers more than fathers proportionately, and that is because of the roles that we all play within the family. Fathers often work outside the home, but it is mothers who are usually more connected to their children in terms of routine, school, sports and the general running of the house.

“While that is a very traditional view of the woman’s role, and not all women perform those roles in the same way, it’s still true that mothers tend to bear the emotional brunt when a child leaves home,” she says.

Dealing with difficult emotions when adult children leave the home 

Part of that emotional intensity springs from the fact that the act of leaving represents the end of several stages in life. One is the end of childhood. That child, the object of so much love, attention and affection, is setting out to fend for themselves. 

Another is the perceived end of parenthood. While it is true that mothers and fathers do not ever stop being parents, no matter where their child goes in life, it is also true that absence can create a perception that a parent’s involvement in their child’s life is also ending. And that brings with it a sense of grief or loss.

The top 5 tips to overcome empty-nest syndrome 

  1. Ask for advice and support from friends and loved ones who have been through the same situation. Seek professional help early if you are starting to feel overwhelmed.
  2. Use the extra time you have to strengthen relationships with your partner, other family members and friends you may have lost touch with. Redecorating your child’s old room may also help with the transition to your new life. 
  3. Find a new hobby to get excited about or rediscover an old passion. Learning something new is good for the brain.
  4. Get involved in your local community or become active in your neighbourhood.
  5. Schedule regular catch-ups with your children, either in person or online.

The most surprising statistics on becoming empty nesters

Wondering how your fellow Australians are dealing with empty nest syndrome? Here are some key findings from The Empty Nesters research that you may find interesting. 

  • 43% enjoy the quieter house, and 41% enjoy that it is cleaner.
  • 74% appreciate the extra time at their disposal.
  • 68% say their financial position has improved.
  • 41% find the time to exercise more.
  • 30% have turned children’s rooms into a space for hobbies.

Check out the full results of The Australian Seniors Series: Empty Nesters survey