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  • Empty Nest Anxiety: Where Can I Find Identity and Meaning?

    Funny thing about empty nest anxiety: we tend to associate it with mothers.  Yet, it’s actually something that can affect all committed and involved parents — as I well know!

    Young Sparrow

    Those of us who view parenting as a creative activity, and those of us who are deeply committed to the well-being of our children often find it very challenging as they head out more into their own lives.  This can be a reality that many experience strongly at this time of year, as young adults start preparing to move away from home for study or work for the first time.  Parents can feel it more and more acutely as each year passes, and adult children return to school with an ever increasing level of self-direction and autonomy.

    The Roots of Empty Nest Anxiety

    When children get to the age of starting to move out of the house, and into their own involvements, it’s a time of major life transition for all concerned.  What is often less visible than it should be is the huge impact on parents.

    Particularly if you’re like me, and you’ve been close to your children, this is time of powerfully conflicting feelings.  We naturally have feelings of gratification and success that our kids are making this important transition, combined, naturally, with anxiety and hope.  We also recognize that it’s a huge change in the way that we as parents live.  There may be feelings of possibility and freedom, but also feelings of loneliness, and of the differences we’re starting to experience in our lifestyle and social networks. So, different parts of us may experience confidence and fear, happiness and sadness, optimism and dread — all at the same time.

    It’s very natural and very common for people to experience this transition with anxiety, stress, and joy.  There will often be genuine period of grief as people adjust to this new reality.  This can lead to a sense of new possibilities opening up in peoples’ lives.

    Why It’s Important Not to “Get Stuck”

    As Prof. Barbara Mitchell, of Simon Fraser University, and her colleagues have observed in their research, there are a number of factors that can complicate the process of dealing with empty nest anxiety.  These include:

    • Having your identity wrapped up in being a parent.
    • Finding it difficult to accept loss of control over your children’s lives.
    • If you have few or only children.
    • If you’re lacking a social support network as you go through this transition.
    • If you feel that the child’s departure was too early or too late, or some situations where children don’t completely leave home — so-called “boomerang” children.
    • If you experience intense worry over how your child is doing in the world outside the home.

    These factors can lead to a “stuckness” in empty nest anxiety, where the parent perhaps makes excessive bids for control over the child, or involvement in his or her life — or the parent may find that he or she is simply unable to move forward with his or her own life.

    empty nest anxiety

    Moving Beyond Empty Nest Anxiety

    If you’re dealing with empty nest anxiety, it may be very helpful to use meditation or relaxation techniques.  There may also be real value in connecting socially with friends or others who are close to you.

    However, it may be important to consider /a-midlife-transition for empty nest anxiety, if you are facing any of the issues mentioned above that complicate the process, or if you have a sense that you are “stuck” or “sinking” as you face this time in your life.   Often, the time of children leaving home is a focal moment in the life of an individual, and the journey of /a-midlife-transition can help us find its individual meaning for us, and help us to identify the way forward our our particular life path.

    Brian  Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst


    PHOTOS: MICOLO J Thanx (Creative Commons Licence) ; Richard Hurd (Creative Commons Licence) ;
    © 2018 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)


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