When the last child leaves home for independent living, college, or military service, parents must make a few changes in their home and lifestyle. If the family home is too large without the children, it may be time to downsize to a smaller one. All that time spent raising the kids, taking them to their activities, and doing family projects is now free. Parents can mope around missing parenthood, or they can take steps to embrace the new freedom and a slight increase in available money.
Coping With The Emotions of The Empty Nest
Some people do a little happy dance when the last child leaves home, and some go into mourning. Parents are all different in how they handle that last child leaving home. This time in our lives can be marred by what is called empty nest syndrome. This is not a clinical condition but is, instead, a phenomenon where parents feel a mixture of emotions including loss and sadness when their youngest child leaves home.
The parents might have encouraged their children to become independent and move out on their own. But once they are gone, the parents miss having children around the house and caring for them. They miss the companionship and activity the children brought. Some parents handle this situation very well, and others may be prone to feelings of loss that make them vulnerable to depression, identity crises, marital conflicts, and even alcoholism.
For other couples, the empty nest gives them the opportunity to reconnect and strengthen their marriage. It might mean less work and family conflict, leaving room to develop new interests, travel, and take better care of themselves.
There is help for parents having a hard time adjusting to the empty nest syndrome. Family counselling experts and medical professionals suggest four coping strategies.
1. Accept the timing of each child leaving home and avoid comparing their progress with that of others. Try to focus on helping each child in their new life as needed and at their request. Encourage them to succeed.
2. Maintain contact on a regular basis. Consider asking each newly independent child how often they prefer to hear from you or if they want to be the one making contact. Contact can be in the form of invited visits, phone calls, e-mails, texts, and video chats.
3. If empty nest syndrome is hard to handle on your own, seek help from the family doctor or mental health professionals. Get together with friends and family members who will be supportive when you share your feelings of loss and sadness.
4. Think positively about your new empty nest and reduction in worry and responsibility. Think about your new freedom and free time. When the time for the last child is approaching, plan ahead for work opportunities, travel, or positive lifestyle changes.
When the last child leaves home, the house may seem big and empty. Instead of focusing on how empty the house seems with the children gone, many couples decide to move to a home more suited to their new circumstances. Downsizing to the new home will include the need to eliminate and simplify belongings. Getting rid of “stuff” is not always easy and can be exhausting and emotionally draining.
Look at the new home with an eye on what will fit and what won’t. Measure all the rooms and take note of all the storage. Then, back in the old house, be serious about reducing belongings to only those that will comfortably fit in the new place. Ask yourself if the item you are wavering on has a useful purpose or only sentimental value. Will each item be useful in the new place, and how long has it been since it was last used?
The three-box rule may be helpful. Go into a room with three boxes labelled keep, give away or sell, and throw away. After all the rooms have been categorized, make a trip to a thrift store and then have a giant moving sale. Carefully pack the things that will be kept in boxes that are labelled as to the contents and which room they go to.
Don’t leave the spouse out of the decisions. There are items that mean more to one person than the other. Respect each other’s feelings. Some items might need to go to the new house for a later decision. Involve the newly independent children. If they left belongings behind, now is the time to insist they go through them and take what they want to their new homes. They must decide what to do with their belongings if they don’t have room to store them or can’t get home to deal with them.
In the end, the number of belongings kept should all fit into the new residence. Renting a storage unit is just delaying important decisions on parting with things and they are an extra expense.
The Next Step As We Get Older
As time goes by, the couple with the empty nest may start feeling the effects of aging and need to make yet more changes in living arrangements. They may have serious health problems or cognitive issues. The couple may need help to decide what this new stage of their lives will look like. McKnight Place and other senior living specialists may be able to help with these decisions.
The couple can choose to move to a senior community with a long list of services including house cleaning assistance, daily activities, meals, and other chosen services. This option lets the couple keep their independence in a safe environment.
Assisted living is another choice couples may make. This option is for people who need a little more help because of health or cognitive issues. The couples will have their own living space like an apartment, only with more services provided. Services might include help with personal care and dressing, transportation, housekeeping, medication management and more as needed. These facilities have professional staff onsite.
Skilled nursing is the option that provides the most care and the least independence. When seniors need more help and are incapacitated, nursing home or skilled nursing care facilities may be the only answer. They provide 24-hour nursing care and supervision by skilled professional staff. The usual set up is for each patient having a room that is theirs as well as community living and dining rooms.
As we age, we may move from one living option to another as needs dictate. Making careful plans for the future are important for couples. Good planning will make each transition easier.