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How to Recover from Empty Nest Syndrome

Sending your child off into the world is a natural part of life but it can be overwhelming. Here are three ways to cope with an empty nest.

Empty nest syndrome, Daughter kissing mother

For many parents, May feels like a dark, spinning vortex. They are hanging on for dear life, trying to keep up with the pace of graduation parties and college preparations, reminding their teens that grades do still matter, and no, they may not go to Jamaica with their friends for two weeks without an adult.

What Is Empty Nest Syndrome?

If you have a graduating senior in your household, working through the complex emotions that accompany your child coming of age and leaving home can be overwhelming. These emotions are a part of a phenomenon called "Empty Nest Syndrome."

Research suggests that parents dealing with empty nest syndrome may experience a profound sense of loss and may even be vulnerable to depression, identity crises and marital conflicts.

In the midst of trying to parent, you might find yourself at odds with your son or daughter in new ways. Understanding the fears and emotions that accompany this major change in your family dynamic may help. Here are three things that you can do now that will help you and your child transition into this new phase of life.

1. Entrust Your Child's Future to God

Every parent wants to do a good job raising their children, so it's natural if you find yourself evaluating how your teen has turned out. You want to make sure your child is prepared for the real world and will make good decisions—and rightly so.

However, involvement in your teen's life can quickly turn into scrutiny, so be aware of your motives. Are you asking questions out of fear, or because you are truly interested? Are you placing your own identity in your child being "OK"? Entrusting your child's future to God will not only free you from being enslaved to the "what-ifs"; it will help your relationship with your teen as well.

Parents may also experience regret when they reflect on the past. The years can pass by quickly when kids are growing up, and sometimes parents miss it all together. Perhaps you didn't always pay full attention to your child's needs and desires.

The sting of remorse can be painful, but Christ can meet you in it. Confess your failures to Him, and accept His grace. Then, work on repairing your relationship with your child. You might be surprised at how far a simple "I'm sorry" or "I love you" can go.

2. Find New Ways to Connect with Your Child

Who am I? Who do I want to be? What should I do with my life?

Parents are very familiar with these questions coming from their teenager, but are often surprised when they find themselves asking the same ones.

Watching your child transition to adulthood produces an identity crisis of sorts for many parents. It can be more unsettling than losing a job, or moving to another state. It's a total life adjustment.

Driving your daughter to sports practice and youth group, waiting up when she's out late, drying her tears when her prom date backed out ... you've been there for it all. Without the all-consuming tasks of day-to-day parenting, you might become anxious about filling that void. Creating more rules can be a last-ditch effort of sorts to control what feels uncontrollable with Empty Nest Syndrome.

Unfortunately, the timing of your teen's growing independence and your desire to come closer may ignite anger and conflict. While keeping household and behavioral expectations in check is important, emphasizing your authority won't bring you closer.

Rather, think of new ways to connect. Shop for college dorm gear together, or plan a day when your teen can pick what you do. Just because your teen is leaving home doesn't mean she doesn't need you anymore ... it's quite the opposite. Your relationship will just look differently than it did in high school.

3. Grieve, but Don't Forget the Joyful Moments Too

Having a child fly the coop is a grieving process. This process is normal with Empty Nest Syndrome.

Even if your child is not moving out, it's still a loss: a change in your relationship with your child, your role in their life and in your family dynamic as you've known it for the last 18 years. A certain amount of sadness comes with that.

In addition, many parents don't want to admit that they are getting older, and so are their kids. They want to stop time and preserve the moments they cherish of their teen as a young child. While your child will always be your "baby" in some ways, he isn't 8 anymore. He is his own person, making his own choices for his life.

Your teen is about to enter a wonderful phase of life, full of discoveries and adventures. While there will also be difficult learning experiences, these are necessary to become an independent, successful adult. It can be a beautiful process to see a young adult learn to rest in the gospel of grace, develop an identity rooted in Christ and make a true difference in the world.

The coming months may be difficult, but they can be filled with joy if you let them. Make the most of the time you have left with things as they are, and look with hope to the new experiences that await your family.

How to Pray on Your Child's Behalf

As you navigate this life change, consider using Paul's words to pray to the Lord on your child's behalf:

Gretchen Raley is a licensed professional counselor living in Austin, Texas. She currently runs her own private practice where she specializes in providing play and expressive arts therapy services to a child and adolescent population. She and her husband, Nathan, are currently enjoying the new adventure of being first-time parents. You can read more about Gretchen's counseling work at her official site.