Dealing with empty nest syndrome

One of the first things many people must face around their 50th birthdays is dealing with empty nest syndrome.

While some people will dismiss the impact an empty nest can have on a seasoned citizen, unfortunately, many are unprepared for that stage in life. I know I was blindsided by the phenomenon.

As a DODO — Dad of Daughters Only — to three daughters, I actually looked forward to the empty nest. The girls had grown into capable, independent young women and would soon be venturing out on their own to start their own lives. Then I’d have time and money to embrace some of the things I had put off for many years.

My wife and I actually counted down the days until the last chick would venture out of the nest. In fact, we had been counting days for more than five years. We knew the day our youngest would get her high school diploma, June 7, 2008.

So, every issue of The Gerber Gazette, our tongue-in-cheek annual family newsletter, featured a “Countdown to 6-7-8” showing the exact number of days between Christmas and the date of her graduation.

Yet, when that day finally arrived, it did not take long for empty nest syndrome to strike. It really hit home when she went off to college and the house was truly empty. I was completely unprepared for the feelings of emptiness and lack of purpose I experienced at the time. I suspect it was the closest thing an man would get to post-partum depression.

For more than 20 years, my life was focused on my daughters and shuttling them to various activities or trying to make sense of whatever the day’s drama involved. I was always needed for a ride, money, homework help or life advice.

When my youngest moved out, it had devastating consequences. It revealed a fissure in our marriage that was more like a chasm. The silence in our home was deafening and would get worse after I moved from Wisconsin to Arizona to start a new chapter in my own life.

That’s why I was intrigued by a recent article in Thrive Global offering advice to help people contend with empty nest syndrome.

Written by psychotherapist Jonathan Alpert, the article offered seven ways to keep separation anxiety in check. They include:

1. Understand you are not losing your teenager. In fact, Jonathan says that teens moving out of the house are a sign you did everything right in preparing them to handle many of life’s challenges.

2. Expect changes. While the article cautions parents to expect their teens to change, in reality, I think parents themselves also undergo change — some good and some not-so-good.

3. Talk to other parents. Of my social circle at the time, I was one of the first to experience a truly empty nest. Some of my peers had children boomerang back home, but because I had all my children before my 30th birthday, most friends still had kids in high school or younger. If I had been able to speak with someone who had already been there, done that, I may have been better prepared for the empty nest.

4. Avoid telling your child, “These are the best years of your life.” What a downer! The kid is 18-years-old and has 60 or 70 years of life remaining and THESE are their best years? How depressing.

I’d also recommend against telling kids how you are will finally be able to live your best years as soon as the nest is empty. I suspect it conveys the false impression that time with your children wasn’t fun or memorable. Trust me, you will look back on those years and realize they really were the best years of YOUR life.

5. Don’t make any major changes. Here’s where I messed up by getting divorced and moving 1,800 miles away. As a result, my girls lost the home in which they had grown up and lost regular in-person contact with me. While it appears they survived the change, looking back, it was probably too much, too soon in that it destroyed their roots and the foundation we had built. I don’t know if I’d do that all over again.

“Next time you find yourself anxious or upset that your baby is no longer home, remind yourself, with pride and confidence, that he or she is all grown up now and about to embark on the next exciting phase of their life,” Jonathan wrote.

His complete article can be found at