Coping With an Empty Nest
by Lauren Rosales-Shepard, Content Writer

August is unofficially “Back-to-School” Month here in the U.S., and parents with children of all ages are sending them off to pursue their education. If your own child is making the transition to college this year, you yourself may be anticipating a transition of your own: the “empty nest.”

It’s a pretty obvious metaphor–like birds leaving the roost to hold their own out in the wild, your child is (or children are) striking out solo into the world. Though they may return home for winter and summer holidays, the structure of your days, and your domestic environment, are about to experience enormous changes.

Let’s face it: change is not easy. But this particular change is beset by layers of potential difficulty.

It is 100% normal to experience anxiety preceding, and grief following, the departure of the last (or only) child from home. Read that again. Normal. It doesn’t make you a dreaded helicopter parent; it doesn’t mean you are “too attached” to your children; it doesn’t mean you’re overly sensitive.

Being a parent is inevitably a considerable part of one’s identity. After all, it’s a role you’ve actively occupied for 18 years! And while a parent whose children have left for college or otherwise ‘flown the coop,’ so to speak, is still a parent, their day-to-day life is not going to reflect that in the same way. With the extra time on one’s hands, too, it can be easy to slip into an existential crisis. If you find yourself struggling to adjust to your new normal, the following tips might be helpful.

  1. Reframe the narrative. If you are seeing your children’s departure as a loss, flip the angle. Think instead about how this phase of your life can be a new beginning. Consider the potential for such a moment: you can reinvent yourself, your routine, your social life, your marriage. Now that you have more time to pursue your own desires, you get to decide just what those desires are.
  2. Set new goals. If many of your past goals revolved around your child, it’s time to shift perspectives and make yourself the star of your own story, moving forward. What do you want out of life? What will make you happy? Set new goals for yourself that make the answers to these questions their starting and end points.
  3. Get physical. Maybe you’re trying to fill your time; maybe you’re trying to obtain those mood-boosting endorphins. Take up a form of physical activity and you’ll accomplish both objectives! It’s common knowledge that exercise is good for you, so this one should be a no-brainer. Check out a Zumba class or drop into a yoga studio, or get back into jogging. Why not join a gym? Some gyms have classes that are free to their members, so you can explore the different types of movement and see what you enjoy the most.
  4. Build a community. Have you lost touch with any friends? This could be an excellent time to reconnect. The parents of your child’s friends are likely in the same boat as you–perhaps there are a few to whom you’d like to reach out? Consider joining a club or community group of some kind, where you can meet new people with a similar interest as yourself. You might find local clubs via your public library, bulletin boards at coffee shops, or on Facebook.
  5. Be flexible in redefining your relationship to your child. Accept the boundaries that your child sets, and be patient. Do they prefer to communicate via texting, phone calls, emails, video chats? Respect their wishes. It will take some time to find the balance between actively supporting your child and allowing them the space to learn, and ultimately thrive, on their own. Remember that your role as their parent is shifting, but they are still your child. If you’re experiencing friction with your spouse, your child is not the confidante you need. Moreover, don’t overwhelm your child with your grief at their departure–you don’t want to make their first independent foray into adulthood about yourself.
  6. Perhaps it’s time for a second honeymoon. Has your marital relationship taken something of a backseat to the raising of your children? This is not uncommon! Sometimes, when the children have departed, issues in your marriage that have been swept under the rug, so to speak, may rise to the surface. For some, these issues may be insurmountable. However, for others, the so-called “empty nest years” can be a time of exciting rekindling and rediscovery within their marriage. Indulge in the privacy you now have; date your partner; reexperience romance. Just as you have changed over the last 18+ years, it’s likely that your spouse has as well. Get to know them again! Many couples take a trip together to ignite this period in their lives.
  7. Get help if you need it. There are many counselors or psychiatrists who specialize in grief and parent-child relationships. Don’t hesitate to seek professional help if you feel like you are really struggling, or that you are becoming depressed.

Once you’ve given yourself and your spouse the time and space to grieve, and you’ve begun to plan this phase of your life, you may find that your house has grown too large. Many empty-nesters do choose to downsize, swapping their large house out for something smaller. As you approach retirement, you will need to think about your long-term housing options. Do you want to search for a smaller house, a townhome, or a condo? Do you want to age-in-place in your current abode? Are you saving up to move to a retirement community? There is no one-size-fits all option for housing as one approaches their senior years; different choices suit different people. It’s important to do your research and have an honest conversation with yourself and your spouse about your future–however distant from this moment–plans.

However you wish to proceed, your first choice may become more financially feasible if you tap into your home equity. A Unison equity sharing agreement is an innovative option that empowers you to access your equity and turn it into cash you can use; it’s different from the traditional home equity loan or line of credit (HELOC) because there is no added debt. Unison doesn’t require monthly payments, and doesn’t charge interest, instead opting for a percentage of your home’s change in value either in 30 years or at the time of sale. They’ve helped over 10,000 homeowners access their equity, many of whom have used the funds to renovate their homes to better age-in-place, save for retirement, or invest in the downpayment on a second property. Learn more about Unison’s equity sharing agreements and whether they might be a good fit for you, your family, and your future plans, on their website.

The content on this page provides general consumer information. It is not legal or financial advice. Unison has provided these links for your convenience, but does not endorse and is not responsible for the content, links, privacy policy, or security policy of the other websites.

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