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.
Single parents and their children typically have a different type of relationship in comparison to two-parent families. In single-parent families, the child and parent may rely more heavily on each other, may provide more emotional support for one another, and can be more enmeshed when it comes to decision making.
It is completely normal for single parents to experience grief-like symptoms prior to the day arriving when their child leaves home. Anxious anticipation can also accompany grief as the parent gears up to let her 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, single-parent households may have a more difficult time explaining their emotional process to friends and family members who may not completely understand their situation.
Single parents may experience depressive symptoms as they begin to adjust to their 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. Parents may be triggered by the sight of their child's empty room, their normal hangout spot within the house and their chair at the dinner table.
These symptoms may hit prior to the 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 quicker than a single parent who may be living alone.
It is a huge life transition when the child that a single parent has 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. Single parents may feel 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. For those struggling with some symptoms, know that there are many ways to process this time and create a meaningful experience.
- 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.
- 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.
Embracing the New Normal
Understand that this transition can be incredibly difficult and emotionally draining. Keep in mind that parents are always parents, even if there are no children living in the home. Many studies also 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 single parents can enjoy the perks of empty nesting. By allowing themselves to put their needs first, exploring their unique interests and embracing this new chapter in life, single parents can move gracefully into this exciting time.