Single Parents and Empty Nest Syndrome

Michelle Blessing
Single mother with child

Empty nest syndrome is a psychological condition that affects parents when their children grow up and leave home. Although not formally recognized as a medical term, it is a growing label that doctors and therapists use to describe the period of mourning that follows when your children pack up and go out on their own for the first time.

Empty Nest and the Single Parent

For the single parent, empty nest syndrome is different than it is for a married couple. Single parents are used to caring for their children on alone, which more than likely consumes much of their time. Losing that role in life can be a bitter pill to swallow. Many single parents will offer to do their children's laundry, make and drop off meals and otherwise remain a constant in their lives, more for the parent's benefit than the child's.

When You Don't Have a Partner

Having a partner to lean on when your children leave the home helps parents to avoid the depression that sometimes accompanies empty nest syndrome. However, when you are lacking a partner in your life and your children leave home, the sense of loss is likely to feel more pronounced, since you will have more time to think about and mull over your new life status. The amount of downtime you have increases, which can be both positive and negative.

The Single Parent-Child Relationship

Often times, the relationship a single parent has with their child is closer and more friend-like than normal (although this isn't always the case). For this specific reason, empty nest syndrome with single parents is experienced much differently than it is for married couples or couples with a partner. Your child can become your partner in crime, your ear to bend or your shoulder to cry on as the two of you forge a place in the world together. When your child leaves for school or wherever he or she is headed, it can be as if your other half is gone. With no other half to lean on, you immediately experience a sense of loss that can be similar to a death.

Many single mothers or fathers may not experience empty nest syndrome until later in life, as many children are now staying home well into their thirties. Known as "boomerang kids," they may be home due to a variety of reasons, from a failed marriage to financial difficulties. At that point in life, you might be pushing for your child to gain some independence and get out on his or her own. Or maybe you are unknowingly creating a dependence with your child and keeping him or her home to suit your needs and avoid loneliness, which can foster an unhealthy relationship between the two of you.

Other Difficulties Make the Problem Seem Worse

While being a single parent makes it more difficult to deal with your loss of identity as a parent, (although you will always be a parent, some people feel that role has now been taken away), there are other things that might be going on in your life during the same time adding to the difficulties. Many parents could be going through other transitions in their lives, from retirement to menopause. These changes, added to the fact your child is leaving home, can increase the amount of sadness or depression you experience.

How To Cope

There are a variety of things you can do to help eliminate or reduce the amount of negative feelings you experience when dealing with empty nest syndrome. Try some of these tips:

  • Reach out to friends, especially other single parents, whether or not their kids have left home. Having a support network can help you to feel more connected to life and keep you mind off missing your child, according to Dr. David Delvin.
  • Join a support group for single, empty nest parents, either online or in your community. This will help you realize you are not alone and give you someone to speak with when times get tough.
  • Rediscover your interests and delve back into them. You now have the time to focus on you, your interests and your passions. Take advantage and remember what you loved about knitting, photography, mountain biking or whatever your heart fancies, according to Kim Kirmmse Toth.
  • Volunteer your skills at a day care or as a tutor or Big Brother/Big Sister. This gives another child the opportunity to learn for your experience and provides you with a family-type outlet that is missing since your child left.
  • Start an exercise program. This will not only keep you busy and focused, rather than moping around the house, but it will also keep you healthy and happier.
  • Give yourself the opportunity to date or meet someone to spend time with who shares your interests. It could be another single parent dealing with the same issues or a person you meet at the grocery store shopping for green peppers. Either way, allow yourself the freedom to meet and enjoy someone else's company.
  • Allow yourself ample time to mourn the loss of your child - the loss of him being there 24/7. Cry, mope and be depressed for a reasonable amount of time - a week or two. If you cannot get out of your funk after about 2 weeks, you may want to speak with you doctor, as you may be clinically depressed and need therapy or medication to assist you.
  • Talk to your child on a regular basis, recommends Christine Webber, a psychotherapist and life coach. Communicate via email, social media websites and on the phone. If necessary, purchase your child a prepaid cell phone only to be used by the two of you so he or she never runs out of minutes to talk to good old Mom or Dad.

Remember, no matter how sad you are about your child leaving home, it is not the end of the relationship. Rather, it is the beginning of a new chapter in both of your lives, one that will hopefully bring you two closer than ever.

Single Parents and Empty Nest Syndrome