Empty nest syndrome is not a clinical diagnosis, but it is a common complaint, at least among parents with college-aged children.
“That sadness is a normal reaction to loss,” said Holly Cormier, licensed clinical psychologist and director of the SIU Clinical Center. “From the time our children arrive, we’re doing everything to support their development into independently functioning human beings. That’s what they have become and life is going to be different now.
“Sadness is not to be avoided; it’s a legitimate emotion,” she said. “Sadness is normal and healthy.”
And the anxiety? Remember that two decades of worrying about your kids helped keep them safe. Now that you are no longer their caregiver, it will take a while to break that habit.
“There has been a major change in the dynamics of your closest relationships,” Cormier said. “Your focus should shift to the health and quality of your relationships with your partner, family and friends.”
But if you just can’t get there, if your grief is profound, your sadness pervasive, your pain intense, the experience debilitating or overwhelming, get help. There’s help out there. Start by talking to your doctor.
“Humans change. We’re set up to feel like change is a problem, something to fear or fight, but change is a fact of life,” Cormier said, “and it always stirs up emotions.
“Children grow up and leave home, but we want them to do that. It’s change and it’s sad. It’s normal,” she said. “Your children are ready to take the risk, but they’re scared. It’s change and it’s scary. And it’s normal.”
It’s the yin and yang of parenthood. There are few things more risky and rewarding, harrowing and joyful, heart-breaking and fulfilling than the whole gloriously excruciating journey from a child’s birth through maturity and beyond to the next generation of empty-nesters.