Melissa Drake knew her teenage son was leaving home, so she joined a Facebook group for other moms in her situation to find support during uncertain times.
It didn’t take long for her to realize that, unlike many other mothers who bemoaned their former role as a caregiver and struggled to find purpose after raising their children, Drake was excited.
“We had a really chaotic time, especially his senior year,” she said. “In this group, it’s hard to be honest because I’m in the minority, but what happens is everyone who feels the same way I feel comes up to me and says ‘I feel the same way.'”
Drake, 52, said her son’s leaving home gave her the time and freedom to finally focus on herself and brought about a major shift in her life.
“I’m used to speaking out for my son or my parents, but this is the first time I don’t have someone else to distract me from my responsibilities,” she said.
1. Embrace your newfound freedom
Although a Study in 2019 Empty nest syndrome (not a clinical diagnosis) was found to cause depression, anxiety, or substance abuse, early research shows that many empty nesters enjoy newfound freedom and the opportunity to reconnect with their spouses. The term empty nest syndrome seems to indicate that parents have a hard time coping with seeing their children leave the coop, but it’s normal for them to have mixed feelings during this transitional time.
With her son gone, Drake said she was able to focus on her health and then her career. Ultimately, become a life coach and author.one of her books talks about The Healing Power of DanceAfter her son left, she took it up as a hobby.She also sent a 2019 TedX talk titled “Dance of Collaboration”focusing on how collaboration can help build businesses and communities.
Drake now works as a writing coach and life coach to help others navigate this transition and get to the other side, where she believes there is more joy and opportunity than many previously imagined.
Coping with the transition in a positive light is the key to finding joy in the next phase, she and other experts say.
“Empty nests are not a bad thing, they’re an opportunity.” Christina Davesa marketing expert and host of the Living Ageless & Bold podcast.
For her podcast, Daves interviews women 55 and older who are achieving success in later life for their advice for those looking to age successfully. The most common trait she sees in her guests is the ability to recognize who they are during and after these major life transitions.
“The loss of a child doesn’t have to be a terrible thing,” she said. “You have another chapter or chapters of your life.”
2. rediscover yourself
Jeni Simas is an Intimacy Coach and Workshop Facilitator close ally She helps couples reconnect after their children leave home. The first thing she recommends every couple do is go out and figure out what they like to do.
“I want people to find themselves, find their own happiness, and take that home and share it,” she said.
Many of her clients remember enjoying hikes, day trips, going to the theater or playing card games.
“Before, work might get in the way of focusing on those things, and kids might get in the way of focusing on those things,” she said.
Simas found that many women suffer from empty-nester syndrome compared to men who can pursue their hobbies even as fathers and partners.
“Women are very lonely and sad, and they’re going through menopause or menopause, so it’s all wrapped up emotionally and hormonally,” she said.
Like many of the tips for staying healthy and happy as you age, these experts agree that exercising, spending time with friends and pursuing hobbies are keys to enjoying this phase of life.
3. Reconnect with you partner
Reconnecting with your partner usually starts when you’re able to reconnect with yourself, says Simas. She advises her clients to try to find some common ground in their hobbies and start exploring them together.
“I really recommend that they date themselves first and then date each other,” she says.
Fun is the key to reviving a relationship that may have grown stale after years of focusing on the role of parent rather than partner, she said.
She guides clients on building intimacy, starting with simple activities like hugging each other a few times a day, greeting each other warmly, and making a conscious effort to remember things you find interesting about your partner.
“A hug is an immediate connection and a burst of oxytocin,” she says.
While Simas knows of many couples where the spark never dies, more often these spouses struggle to reconnect without their children as a conduit.
“When things aren’t about kids, they forget how to talk to each other,” she said.
But ignoring the problem doesn’t solve the problem.
“Otherwise, you’re just a roommate living in the same house for the next 30 years,” she said.
4. keep in touch with kids
Dr. Avigail Lev is a psychotherapist, author, mediator, and executive coach with offices in California and New York. She warns her clients not to chase the babies as they fly away from the nest. Doing so may have the opposite effect than intended. For example, instead of punishing them for calling infrequently, thank them when they do.
“The more autonomy you give them, the more you treat them like adults, the more they want to spend time with you,” she says.
Instead, she recommends starting new traditions and creating a family time plan to maintain those connections.
“Create new traditions to fit the changing dynamics of the family,” she says. “This could be a monthly family game night, an annual holiday or a holiday ritual that can fit into everyone’s schedule. The consistency of these traditions helps create a sense of continuity and strengthens the family bond.”
Daves says social media has helped her stay connected to her kids and made the empty-nest transition less jarring.
“When I was in college, my parents would call every Sunday night because that’s when tuition would drop,” Daves said. “But now I can text my daughter whenever I want.”
It’s also good, because Daves and her husband follow their kids on social media, and when they see a new post or story, they feel included in their lives.
5. Look for support
Lev recommends talking openly about the shift as a way to cope.
“Reach out to friends, family or support groups who have been through a similar experience,” she says. “Sharing your feelings and concerns with others who understand you can provide reassurance, validation and valuable insight. Talking openly about your emotions can help alleviate feelings of isolation and provide a support network to lean on during this time.”
Lev also notes that meditation and gratitude practices can help her clients navigate these transitions.
Drake found support and a new best friend in a Facebook group she joined, which led to a new pastime of going out and dancing every Friday night. Through the process of self-discovery, she also found the courage to move from Iowa to California to pursue her goals and make a career change.
But her son’s departure allowed her to focus on some pressing medical issues, including lifelong depression, for about a year. She thanks the Facebook group for creating a strong community for her and supporting her throughout the process.
Drake’s son has since moved to California and lives nearby.
“Whenever I hear about empty nesters, it’s not a positive experience. The identities of these people are tied to who they are as mothers,” she said. “I’m still a mom, and I’m more than a mom, I’m bigger than a mom. When I moved (my son) told me how proud he was.”