The time of year is upon us, back to school stress and for others realizing that empty nest syndrome is a pain like no other. Several of my friends sent children off to college, and they find themselves alone for the first time in 18 years. I watched feeling like a helpless friend, silently praying for the parents and jumping for joy for their children’s dreams.
Rob Lowe (one of my Hollywood crushes) got an overwhelming response for what he wrote in his memoir about his son going to college. "I have been emotionally blindsided. I know that this is a rite many have been through, that this is nothing unique." Lowe said. “I know that this is his finest hour. But looking at his suitcases on his bed, his New England Patriots posters on the wall, and his dog watching him pack, sends me out of the room to a hidden corner where I can’t stop crying.”
What is Empty Nest Syndrome?
This is certainly not a unique case, parents all over the United States feel like this when their children leave the nest. Empty Nest Syndrome is not an actual clinical diagnosis, but a popular psychology term used to describe a myriad of emotional and physical symptoms parents experience when their child moves away from home. Empty Nest syndrome can occur even when one child leaves homes with several other siblings still at home. There are few if any roles more important, more time-consuming, or more meaningful than parenting. Therefore, being a parent is a large part of your identity. So when a child leaves home, it isn’t just the nest that can feel empty. Indeed, parents often struggle with a profound sense of loss, not just because they miss their child, but because their very identities have been significantly impacted.
Empty Nest Syndrome affects fathers differently than mothers.
I commend Rob Lowe for openly sharing his grief. As a public figure, he sets an example for men to realize that empty nest syndrome affects both parents. Men also need an outlet to express their emotions. As fathers become more involved with the care of their children, they are increasingly likely to feel the pain of them leaving. Women are more likely to have a support network of friends and family; men are often in a lonelier position. They also find it harder to open up about their feelings. The experience often prompts men to ask uncomfortable questions about their achievements, their purpose in life, the future of their marriage and their sense of themselves. It is thought to be one of the causes of mid-life crisis in men.
How can parents cope with the grief of their child leaving home?
- Start planning as early as possible, even when your child is years away from leaving home.
- Think of other roles you play at work, volunteering, or in your religious community. Start to make a plan on what role you would like to expand
- Take this meaningful time to rekindle a relationship with your spouse, recreate the romance in your marriage.
However, recent studies suggest that an empty nest might reduce work and family conflicts, and can provide parents with many other benefits. When the last child leaves home, parents have a new opportunity to reconnect with each other, improve the quality of their marriage and rekindle interests for which they previously might not have had time.
Allow the grieving process to occur naturally.
Too many parents feel the pressure to brush deep wounds of grief aside to focus on raising other siblings in the home, functioning at work, or reconnecting with a spouse.
"Mindfulness teaches us to be present in the current moment, even if the current moment is full of grief."- Dr. Romie
There is a false belief that to be healthy, we must always be happy. A natural part of living the human experience on this Earth is to experience a full range of emotions. A healthy mind recognizes and processes the normal part of loss with emotions ranging from denial to anger to grief. It may not feel comfortable to sit with grief, but when we acknowledge this emotion we are more likely to cope, heal, and connect to a feeling of hope.
A natural next question I receive is, how long is it normal to grieve? What is normal to you? I am more concerned if grief is so severe that your daily appetite or sleep schedules are disturbed. I would rather you practice self-compassion through self-care rather than compare yourself to a fictitious normal.
Your grief is a sign that you love deeply. Your love for your child is what will also heal your grief.
Sending you a prayer of love,
Dr. Romie discusses Empty Nest Syndrome as a media expert analyst in brain and mental health. Watch Dr. Romie's Good Day Orlando segment Fox News.