My 18-year-old daughter went off to college a couple months ago and now my husband and I are empty-nesters — and I can’t seem to get out of my funk. I find myself crying more often, especially first thing in the morning after my husband has left for work. I’m starting to support a friend by doing some part-time virtual work, but the house still feels quiet. In the meantime, she seems to be loving school and making friends. My husband is losing patience with me. He even suggested I talk to a therapist. Your thoughts?
Dear Empty Nester,
It’s understandable and natural to miss your daughter. I don’t know if it will make you feel any better to know this, but you’re not alone: With the start of college this fall, 25 million people have children who are no longer living at home. Surprisingly just 25 percent of mothers report their lives are better and that they enjoy relating to their children as adults. That means three-fourths of mothers suffer when the nest is empty, with symptoms including sadness, depression, changes in sleep patterns and excessive worrying.
I’m sure you recognize that our children are meant to leave home. That is the natural order of things – we raise our children to go out on their own and experience life. Your daughter sounds like she’s thriving, which must be reassuring to you. In the meantime, there are steps you can take to help you through this transition. Talking to a therapist, as your husband has suggested, is a healthy option, especially if you’re experiencing depression for more than two or three months.
You might also consider getting together with other empty-nesters, preferably those who have been in that role for a while. They can offer first-hand insights and guidance.
Volunteer! The fastest way to shift your mindset is to give to another.
Now is also the time to engage in activities or hobbies that were put on the back-burner while you raised your daughter: gardening, learning a language, volunteering, rock climbing, traveling … let your imagination take flight and really come up with some things that you are excited to pursue. Take this opportunity to focus on yourself. I’m glad to hear you’re working as well, as you may find an undiscovered talent that takes you in a new direction.
It’s also a prime opportunity to re-connect with your husband, who is certainly missing your daughter as well. Take a walk together after dinner; make weekly plans to explore a nearby town or restaurant. Keep the lines of communication open with your spouse as you embark on the next phase of your life.
For me, personally, I’m in the 25% that felt joy as the girls left for college. Do I miss them? Absolutely! Yet, I remember college to be one of the most memorable experiences of my life, and I’m grateful for the conversation and connection during our Sunday weekly calls. By taking action on any of the above-suggestions, you’ll begin to see a brighter future for all.