The Empty Nesters' Syndrome is defined as the distress elderly parents experience when their child gains full independence and leaves home . These emotions become more prominent during the holiday season, where some elderly parents wish to relive moments with their children or honour family traditions.
Empty Nesters’ Syndrome is characterised by the following behaviours.
Constantly worrying about your adult child's wellbeing: It is normal for a parent to worry about their child’s safety and mental state. However, with an empty nest, these emotions can become more intense. Empty nesters might ask too many questions about their child’s new life outside the family home, or insist on seeing them every day. During festive periods, parents might feel more compelled to invite their children to family gatherings even when it may be difficult for their children to be there. For example, a child living overseas might not be able to attend family holiday celebrations because of the distance, cost of travelling and different time zones. Some children find it harder to reunite with their elderly parents during the holidays because they are also caring for their own families.
Feeling loss: Parents may also feel saddened when their child decides to leave the nest. Some parents might even feel a loss of purpose, as they had dedicated their lives to raising their children. The free time parents have afterwards can feel empty and even meaningless. Parents who organised family gatherings or went through great lengths to get presents for their children during the festive period might grieve over being unable to do these things ever again.
Feeling lonely: Most parents are used to spending large amounts of time with their child over the years. Hence, it can be difficult to adjust and get acquainted with the accompanying silence in the family home after the child has left home. This feeling can become more apparent during the holiday season. The festive period is meant to be a time of joy and celebration, but can be a lonely experience for parents with an empty nest.
Although it seems difficult at first, elderly parents can overcome the heavier feelings associated with Empty Nesters’ Syndrome during the holiday season. If you are an elderly parent who is feeling the effects of Empty Nesters’ Syndrome, consider taking the following actions.
Practice self-compassion: Understand that your feelings are valid, and that you are not the only parent who feels upset after a child leaves the nest. Take time to identify and address any negative self-talk that could be harming your mental health. Be patient as you adjust to life without children around the house.
Confide in your spouse: Take this opportunity to rekindle the relationship with your spouse, especially if your life mostly revolved around the children . Start a conversation about how both parents feel towards having an empty nest. Accept differing viewpoints and give assurance when the other person needs it. Soon, you and your spouse will fall into a routine. You might even enjoy celebrating the holidays with just your spouse again in the future.
Stay relevant: With the advent of social media, there are many ways to keep in touch with your children. Use platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp to be updated about their latest hobbies or travel plans. The more contact points available, the more you will feel like you are still a part of their lives.
Engage with the community: You might have more free time on your hands after your child's departure from the family home. Now is the perfect time to pursue hobbies and interests that you pushed aside all those years ago in favour of raising your children. Do not worry if you are scared of stepping into this next phase of your life on your own. You can join a group of like-minded people who also want to spend their time meaningfully. TOUCH has four senior activity centres in Singapore where you can meet new people and participate in various recreational activities. Learn more about how you can take charge of your wellbeing here.
With support from family and the community, elderly parents can make the best out of their golden years.
TOUCH Active Ageing (TAA) empowers seniors to lead fulfilling lives as they learn to stay physically active and socially connected. We believe that every senior - regardless of their age, ability or physical status - can be equipped as a resource to help others.
- “Empty Nest Syndrome.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, https://www.psychologytoday.com/sg/conditions/empty-nest-syndrome.
- Morin, Amy. “5 Signs and Symptoms of Empty Nest Syndrome.” Verywell Family, Verywell Family, 29 Oct. 2022, https://www.verywellfamily.com/signs-of-empty-nest-syndrome-4163787.