Many parents experience empty nest syndrome when their child moves out of the house for the first time. While parents who are part of a couple may see this as an opportunity to rekindle the flame within their relationship, single parents may have a more difficult transition ahead.
As a single parent, you may have a different type of relationship with your child in comparison to two-parent families. You and your child may rely more heavily on each other, may provide more emotional support for one another, and may be more enmeshed when it comes to decision making.
It is completely normal for you to experience grief-like symptoms prior to the day arriving when your child leaves home. Anxious anticipation can also accompany grief as you gear up to let your child go out into the world as an adult. Typical grieving symptoms include crying, feeling on edge, difficulty sleeping and change in appetite.
Unlike two-parent households where the couple may offer support to each other throughout this process, you may have a more difficult time explaining your emotional process to friends and family members who may not completely understand what you're going through.
You may experience depressive symptoms as you begin to adjust to your child being away from home. Common symptoms include changes in appetite, changes in sleep patterns, chronic sad mood, frequent crying, irritability, isolating behaviors, and increased negative thoughts. You may feel triggered by the sight of your child's empty room, your child's normal hangout spot within the house and their chair at the dinner table.
These symptoms may hit you prior to your child leaving, or shortly after. In two-parent households, one partner may notice symptoms within their partner and provide support or encourage them to seek help much more quickly than within a single parent home.
It is a huge life transition when your child who you have been raising for years leaves the nest. Going from a two-person household to a single-person household can feel like a shock to the system and definitely takes some getting used to. You may experience intense loneliness, especially toward the beginning of the transition, with a typical decrease over time. There may still be moments, even long after the child has left, that bring up these lonely feelings again.
In two-parent households, it may feel like there is easier access to support, as a partner is living in the same home. For some, living alone can feel very isolating and stressful, and it may seem like it is harder to get support during this process, especially during late hours.
Feeling anxious prior to your child's departure is completely normal. Know that anxiety is the body's way of signaling discomfort. Take time to process the emotions that are coming up. Typical symptoms include excessive future planning, tension within the body, panic attacks, feeling agitated or high strung, and having difficulty relaxing.
In single-parent households, anxiety may be easier to hide from friends and family members. In two-parent households, one partner may notice a shift in the other when their anxiety rises.
Ways to Move Forward
With time, most single parents actually report that being an empty nester becomes a positive experience. If you are struggling with some symptoms, know that there are many ways to process this time and create a meaningful experience.
- Volunteer or get a job that you feel passionate about. Many studies suggest that parents who have careers tend to have a less difficult time with empty nest syndrome.
- Speak with a counselor or therapist if your symptoms feel too intense to handle or feel out of control.
- Connect with single empty nesters through Meetup. Meetup is a website and app that allows people to connect based on similar interests. Groups can be started by anyone, and fun events are planned around the world.
- Channel your emotions by doing something creative. Journaling, drawing, painting, coloring, playing music, dancing and singing can all be great options for those looking for an emotional release.
- Connect with supportive friends and family members who love you. If you don't know what to do when you have no friends or family, there are ways to remedy that.
- There are many support groups for single parents, both online and in person, who are seeking help with the emotional toll that empty nesting can have.
Empty Nest Support Groups
Support groups are a great way to process what you are going through. Support groups may be run by professional therapists, or be structured like a forum where you can join conversations with topics that are relevant to your empty nest process.
- Life in Transition: This company provides phone sessions, Skype sessions, and in-vivo support groups in California that help single parents transition during this challenging time.
- Daily Strength: This online empty nest support group has around 1,000 members. It is not run by a professional counselor, but you will be able to connect with others who are going through a similar experience, including single parenting, at any time of day.
- Empty Nest Moms: This forum is open to both mothers and fathers who are experiencing symptoms related to empty nesting and single parenting. There are tons of topics and forums to join depending on what you're interested in processing. This is not run by a professional counselor, but is a great space to read others' stories and share your own.
Embracing the New Normal
Understand that this transition can be incredibly difficult and emotionally draining. Keep in mind that you will always be a parent even if there are no children living in your home. Many studies suggest that mood improves once the last child has left the home, and there is a decrease in reported daily hassles. There are many ways you can enjoy the perks of empty nesting. Although this can be a tricky transition, allow yourself to put your needs first, explore your unique interests and begin to embrace the positive aspects of this new chapter in your life.