Starting the Next Chapter: Tips for Empty Nesters
When it’s time to grieve, when it’s time to distract yourself and when it’s time to finally start embracing your exciting new life
When young children do things on their own for the first time, there's often a lot of emotion involved. Remember your child's first sleepover? You probably felt you'd reached an important milestone. Remember when they first went off to summer camp? You might have cried, realizing they wouldn't stay small forever.
Coping with Empty Nest Syndrome
Now it's for real: your brood has grown up and flown away to start their lives. Whether they've gone off to college, they're traveling the world, or they've joined the military or started a new job, the result is the same for you: an empty nest.
It doesn't matter if you had one child or several: the house definitely feels quieter. After years of raising a family and perhaps putting your marriage on the back burner while you tended to your kids, you and your spouse might feel strange within a suddenly quiet house. Some couples find it exhilarating to be just the two of them again, while others are overcome with a feeling of loss. It's common to have both feelings, as well as everything in between.
The Mayo Clinic cites "Empty Nest Syndrome" as a common affliction that can lead to depression, marital stress, identity crises and alcoholism. While every parent reacts differently to coping with an empty nest, it's important to recognize those feelings of loss and take steps to cope.
If you're about to be left with an empty nest yourself or if you're dealing with the transition right now, here are some tips to help you through the process.
1. Stay Connected
Obviously, you'll want to keep in touch with your children and doing so is much easier than just a generation ago. You can video chat, email and text. And of course, the good old phone call is always there to reassure you that your kids may have left the house, but they'll always be part of your life. A quick chat is all you'll need to remind yourself of that.
But staying connected is also about your spouse. Now that your kids have moved away, you have a lot more time to devote to one another. Your first move might be to communicate your feelings toward your new status as empty nesters. This is a crucial conversation to have since you might be feeling completely different about it. One of you may be thrilled that now you have time to travel or indulge in hobbies while the other might be stuck feeling sad and alone.
Both ways of reacting are natural. It's natural to feel loss and it's natural to be excited about the new opportunities that have opened up. The important thing to remember here is to stay connected so you both know where the other is on the emotional spectrum.
Staying connected and being social also extends beyond your immediate family. Now is an important time to remain active and connected to your community at large — other family members, friends, hobby groups, religious organizations and similar connections. Click here to read about the mental and physical benefits of socialization as we age.
2. Consider Downsizing
Your big, child-friendly home that's currently packed with a lifetime of memories (and stuff) has served you well. But life is a journey and for some couples, it's time to move to a home that's more suitable for their new lifestyle. That may mean moving to another state or it may mean a move across town. Either way, it probably means a step down in square footage.
Does the process of downsizing seem overwhelming? Read these 5 tips for staying sane when downsizing.
There are many ways to go about downsizing your home, but they all require the same basic initial approach: de-cluttering. It's amazing how much stuff the average American family accumulates over time. Chances are, much of it sits untouched somewhere in your home, taking up valuable space.
Start small — tackle a desk drawer to begin with. Couples who start the process early may have time to try selling some of their belongings on eBay or Craigslist. Enquire if relatives want to take some of the family treasures and mementos for their own homes. If you choose to donate some items, don't forget to get a receipt for tax purposes.
The de-cluttering aspect of the downsizing process is too much of an obstacle for some people. If that's you, consider hiring one of the many professionals who have cropped up in recent years to cater to people just like you.
Want to downsize but unsure of where to start? Read these 8 tips on conquering the task, plus advice on what to keep.
3. At Least Consider De-Cluttering
If downsizing doesn't fit your lifestyle goals and plans, then consider at least the de-cluttering bit. A lot of detritus accumulates over the decades when you're raising a family and now's a great time to assess your belongings. You may not feel like ditching everything right away, especially if your emotions are raw from letting go of your old lifestyle. But eventually, you may.
In the meantime, there are lots of ways to de-clutter without touching your kids' stuff. It can be a cathartic process that feels so good you might be ready to tackle all that kid-raising paraphernalia by the time you finish sorting through your own things. As you might suspect, de-cluttering can be therapeutic for lots of couples. And your home may suddenly feel bigger.
4. Focus on Your Retirement Goals
You'll also want to equip yourself financially when you become an empty nester. Now's the time to focus on gearing up for a comfortable retirement if you haven't already. Many couples find that talking to a financial advisor at this point makes a lot of sense, but the chief components of a good plan include the following actions:
- Assess your current retirement savings
- Evaluate your spending habits
- Pay down any debt you still have
- Bulk up your emergency savings account
- Ramp up your contributions to retirement accounts
- If applicable, find out about claiming a tax credit for college tuition
Want to learn more about how you can achieve these goals? Check out any of these great articles from Acts Retirement-Life Communities:
- What Do I Need to Retire Comfortably?
- Financial Planning Advice for Seniors
- Are You Prepared for Tax Season? How to Protect Your Finances
The Bottom Line
Every parent has their own methods for coping with an empty nest. You may want to focus on the emotional side of the transition while your spouse just wants to keep busy. If you feel stuck in the depths of sadness, seek support from family members or friends. Some empty nesters find it's helpful to talk with a professional mental health provider, even if it's just for a few sessions, to get them over the hump of despair.
The main takeaway is to follow these tips and listen to your inner self. You'll know when it's time to grieve, when it's time to distract yourself, and when it's time to finally start embracing your exciting new life.
Acts Retirement-Life Communities is the largest not-for-profit owner, operator and developer of continuing care retirement communities in the United States. Headquartered in suburban Philadelphia, Acts has a family of 23 retirement communities that serve approximately 8,500 residents and employ 6,200 in Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, North and South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama and Florida. For more information about Acts visit actsretirement.org.