How to Cope When a Child Leaves Home

Milestone transitions can be challenging, especially the one when an adult child moves away to begin college or to start a new job. There's even a name for it: empty nest syndrome. But isn't this is the goal of parenthood-to raise our children to lead their lives as independent adults? Here are some tips for helping you cope with this sometimes difficult transition.

  • Plan ahead

    Before he or she leaves home, make sure your child knows how to do the essentials (laundry, cooking meals, balancing a checkbook, etc.) to reduce any worries about how they will fare on their own. Also, start looking in advance for new assignments at work, exciting projects to take on, and so forth. Staying busy will help soften any sadness you might feel during this time, and it will give you purpose and perhaps even a new passion.

  • Be gentle with yourself

    Experiencing a wide range of emotions-sadness, loneliness, anxiety, a sense of loss-is expected; there is no one correct way to handle this big step. You might feel intense grief or wonder if you have lost your purpose in life. You may be overwhelmed with concern for your child's safety. All of this is normal and will pass in time. Consider expressing your feelings in a journal such as this one.

  • Keep things positive with your child

    Help your child (and yourself) see this transition as a big adventure. Give them space to figure things out on their own. Consider marking the occasion with a ritual, such as planting a new tree in the backyard-something to commemorate this moment as both a rite of passage and an exhilarating new beginning.

  • Take time for self-care and passion projects

    As you prepare your child to leave home-whether that means helping them pack for the college dorms or running through a checklist of things they will need for their first job-it will be a hectic time. So plan time for yourself: go for a walk outdoors, pop into a yoga class, or simply take a nap. Rest and soothing self-care can help mitigate any feelings of loss.

  • Realize that letting go is a process

    Your child will become an independent adult through a slow process that happens over time. Yes, this moment is an ending of sorts, but it's also the beginning of an exciting new chapter for both of you. You will not lose touch with your child. Today's technology makes it incredibly easy for the two of you to stay connected. Call, text, email, or write them an old-fashioned letter to let them know they are loved and missed.

  • Find a supportive community

    Letting go of day-to-day life with your child will mean a significant change in your daily routine. It may be easy to lose contact with the friends you've gained through family life. Reach out and build community with them or with others that share common interests. Go out, see people, and openly share what you are experiencing. If you feel anxious or depressed, reach out to your doctor as well as a qualified therapist.

  • See this as a time for new growth

    You are letting go of a sweet time: the years when your child lived at home. But remember, there are two sides to every coin, and with the right attitude, perspective, and an openness to possibility, this can be a time of meaningful growth. In fact, recent research shows that parents often enjoy the freedom and the deeper marriage connection that an empty nest can bring about.

You may find that you rekindle your marriage and have more time to share with each other. You will have more time to pursue career goals, hobbies, travel, and other interests. You will also have the opportunity to develop a new relationship with your now adult child. As they are now free to make self-directed choices, they will begin to see you as a confidant, a friend, and a loyal mentor-creating a solid bond that will never break.

Stresscenter.com's Attacking Anxiety & Depression program was developed by Lucinda Bassett, and Dr. Philip Fisher, MD, who leveraged the skills, methods and techniques of Cognitive Behavioral Modification as the core of the self-treatment process. Since 1983, the program has helped over 1.4 million people to recover from acute stress, anxiety, panic disorder, obsessive worry, and depression.


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