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Editor's Note:  "Borderlines," BAMHS' periodic column, provides ideas and suggestions for healthy living, better family life and successful strategies for coping with life's challenges. Our newsletter is updated frequently! Check back often.
Feathering the empty nest
Posted: February 9, 2011
Last Updated: February 9, 2011

What does a parent do when the focus of their life for the last 18 years, their child, leaves home? Parents may feel sadness, loneliness, emptiness, guilt, or worse, uselessness. This emotional state of parents with children no longer in the home is called empty nest syndrome.  Did you know that empty nest syndrome occurs most often in October and over the holidays, well after children have left for college?

Does this situation sound familiar? Waving goodbye to your last child, you begin the long drive home. The reality of your empty nest sets in during the next few weeks. Your decades-old primary role of "mom" or "dad" has been suddenly eliminated, creating the most disturbing identity loss in life. Your life has essentially revolved around your children's busy lives, even their pursuit of extracurricular activities to see them into a college or a solid future. Now the busy years are over. You have invested so much time with your children that when your last child leaves the nest, that when you’re a household can feel completely foreign. Regular tasks like cooking dinner can be a strange experience when you are used to cooking for a family and find only your spouse or self to feed leaving massive amounts of leftovers.

How can you put your life back together and learn to cope with the stress of empty nest syndrome? The good news is that recent studies have shown that the initial ‘empty nest syndrome’ doesn’t last long and lingers even less for people involved in other hobbies or activities besides their children’s. It is a new time in life when you can focus on you.

But to help the transition be a smooth one with less tears shed and lonely days pining for company, check out these solutions designed to get you back on track with the next chapter of your life.

Be proactive not reactive. 
Prepare for the feelings before they come. Learn to experience a sense of power and control in your own life. This is a time of adventure, discovery and creativity, not sadness.

Use it as an opportunity to develop your self. 
Make it a time to rediscover your spouse without children or just rediscover yourself. Try taking time to talk to friends or your spouse or enjoy an activity you have always loved, but never had the time to try. Play music in the background each day, be creative with your talents and abilities, and find a reason to laugh each day. Make sure you have a group of friends to support you in this time in your life of transformation. 

Live Your Life.
The empty nest is an opportunity for you to spend the rest of your days living your own life. Your other roles in life have been fulfilled and take a backseat to "your new life." Begin an exciting plan for the rest of your life. How long do you want to work? Where do you want to reside in retirement? Where do you want to travel? Discover how you can create the rest of your life organized around the purpose you want to fulfill beyond child rearing.

Families can be the most fertile place for spiritual development, the catalyst for our growth potential. When your children leave the nest, this emotional process does not have to end. Rather it can serve to create the happiest and richest time of your life. To benefit yourself, your children, and those hoped for grandchildren, in the future.

If empty nest syndrome has you feeling down call Border Area Mental Health Services. To reach Border Area Mental Health Services in Grant and Hidalgo Counties, call 388-4412; in Catron County, call 533-6649; in Luna County, call 546-2174.  For CRISIS, call 538-3488 or outside Silver City, call 1-800-426-0997.

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© 2008 by Border Area Mental Health Services and Putting the Web to Work. Front-page photo copyright by Bob Pelham, Pinos Altos Cabins, and used by permission. All rights reserved. For the privacy and comfort of our clients and staff, the photographs used in this site are representative and do not show specific individuals associated with BAMHS.