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Empty Nest Syndrome Can Strike Parents After Children Fly Off to College

Edmonds, WA (Aug 9, 2012) – Parents sending their youngest – or only – child off to college this fall should be prepared to deal with a complex set of emotions commonly referred to as “empty nest syndrome,” advises best-selling author Dr. Gregory Jantz, founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE in Edmonds, WA.

Although you won’t find it in a psychiatric manual, the term “empty nest syndrome” has long been used to describe feelings of emptiness that sometimes haunt parents when the last of their offspring leave home.

For some parents, adjusting to the empty nest isn’t so difficult. For others, however, the feelings of loss and lack of purpose that set in can have serious mental health consequences, triggering depression, grief, anxiety, substance abuse or compulsive hoarding behavior.

“‘Empty nest’ parents confront life changes that are every bit as challenging as the changes that their young adult kids are going through,” points out Dr. Jantz, an internationally known therapist who has written several books on family life, including When Your Teenager Becomes the Stranger in Your House. “By habit, parents tend to focus on their children’s needs, and they may neglect their own feelings and emotional well-being.”

Empty nest syndrome can be especially hard for women because their roles as mothers are typically so central to their lives and their identities. Single parents, who don’t have a partner to lean on or commiserate with, may also find dealing with an empty nest especially challenging. For couples, however, adjusting to being a newly child-free duo can be stressful in itself.

Parents needn’t fear the empty nest, but at the very least they should be prepared for a mixed bag of complex and contradictory emotions after their children leave. Contrary to how the situation is often portrayed in the advertising media, an empty nest is unlikely to be accompanied by simple feelings of freedom and happiness.

Support and patience from friends and family can help empty-nesters adjust. If feelings of sadness or confusion become overwhelming and interfere with daily life, however, parents  should not be ashamed or afraid to seek professional help, says Dr. Jantz.