Expectations of empty nest syndrome often worse than reality, psychologist says
Your youngest son or daughter graduated from high school recently, and in a few short weeks, he or she will trade his or her bedroom in your home for a college residence hall. You're starting to dread the future silence at home and are wondering how you will fill the hours that you previously spent with your son or daughter and attending his or her school and sporting events.
Take heart - the empty nest "is often worse in anticipation than in day-to-day practice," says University of North Texas psychologist Bert Hayslip Jr.
Hayslip, who has studied retirement adjustment and other aging issues for more than 20 years, points out that, more often than not, children who leave do not completely cut off contact with their parents. He advises parents to think of the empty-nest syndrome as a series of life events, instead of a sudden change, but to realize that an empty nest can cause bigger problems to surface "if a couple hasn't tended their marriage while raising their children."
"Some couples may find they no longer have anything in common once the children are out of the house," he says.
Thinking of an empty nest as the loss of children who are "irreplaceable," he says, makes the adjustment more difficult.
"With the empty-nest syndrome, parents typically are dealing with the loss of the parenting role, not with having really lost their child," Hayslip says. "They're just having to find a new way to relate to their child."
Relating to their college-age sons and daughters in this new way, he says, will usually come easily to parents as the months pass.
"As with many things, the passage of time heals the pain of loss," he says.