An Empty Nest and then What

The Empty Nest

Transitions can be emotionally challenging even if the movement is towards something we want or away from something we don’t want. Transitions are challenging because they usually require an adjustment in our daily routine, how we think and feel, or all three. Unwelcome transitions involve loss and letting go; sudden illness or injury and loved ones leaving or dying.

Feelings of grief and loneliness, emptiness and worry are common when children leave home, particularly the last one. This is such a common phenomenon that it is loosely called a ‘syndrome’; empty nest syndrome. For some it can be quite debilitating, while for others it is short lived and an opportunity to do some things they have always wanted to do but felt they had to prioritize their children’s interests before their own. How parents respond children leaving home will to some extent be a reflection of how well they have navigated transitions in the past.

I was a potter for many years. Responding to change is a bit like learning to handle wet clay, which seems to have a mind of its own. You might want to create a tall vase but in the end you settle for a bowl. The more open and fluid one can be with the outcome the greater potential for satisfaction. If we get fixated on a particular outcome, we set ourselves up for disappointment. Setting a clear intention without firm expectations, can be helpful.

Couples that have maintained their relationship by reserving some time solely for themselves, may experience less loneliness when the children are gone. Likewise if the parents, as individuals, have maintained their own work and recreation interests, volunteering and friendships, there will be less of a gap when an important member of the family is not there on a daily basis.

If you find yourself overwhelmed emotionally because the nest is empty here are a few tips for thriving through change.

1. Try to keep a sense of humour; transitions have a beginning and an end.
2. Be honest about your feelings. Be curious and courageous about your experience especially, if it is new for you. It is better to weep and wale than pretend your life has not been turned upside down. Feelings can change quickly, however, if a sense of loss, loneliness and/or worry persist, it may be helpful to talk with a counsellor, someone who can be objective and empathetic about your particular situation.
3. Consider pursuing the interests you felt you never had time for: a new hobby, starting a small business, returning to school or travel. As one door closes another one usually opens providing an opportunity for learning and personal growth.
4. Take time to improve the quality of your closest relationships.
5. Create special events and memories when the family is reunited.
6. Stay in touch by whatever means is comfortable for you both and at a frequency that is comfortable for both of you.

Transitions; Letting Go and Letting In, will be a 6 week small group class offered at Harmony Health Centre October 26 – November 30. Please call Grace McKnight for details 902 624 0066 RCT-C,
Transitions poster

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