Empty-nesters need new, exciting ways to define themselves - East Valley Tribune: Ahwatukee Foothills

Empty-nesters need new, exciting ways to define themselves

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Posted: Saturday, June 11, 2011 7:00 pm | Updated: 10:36 pm, Thu Dec 13, 2012.

It seems like only yesterday you watched your child take their first steps then last month you watched them stepping to the podium to receive their high school diploma. For your senior, the end of school is both exciting and frightening. Exciting because they have completed the journey, and frightening because it is the beginning of a new one.

Those same feelings are ones you may be feeling as a parent. When your child goes to college or moves out, you are faced with, “What now?” “Who am I?” “Where do I go from here?”

Empty-nest syndrome is the constellation of feelings parents often have when their last child leaves home. It is only natural to feel a loss when you have worked so hard to be good at something and you no longer are needed. How you have defined yourself has been, in part, calling yourself a parent.

“You might experience the following symptoms: Sadness, fear in what your role in life is now, major adjustments in what you do each day, how you view yourself, and how your marriage functions,” said Dr. Gail Saltz.

In the past, women were most affected by this syndrome because they were stay-at-home moms and their identity was defined by taking care of the children.

But, today men can also suffer from empty-nest syndrome because they are often the primary caretakers. Regardless of whether your role has been mom or dad, if you have been the caretaker your role has been diminished when your child graduates.

It is imperative to remember that you will still have a relationship with your child, but that role is now changed. Now your role is adult to adult.

If you have done a good job in parenting, you have given your child the tools that they need to be successful. Now your job is to plan the rest of your life! Here are some tips to do just that:

1. Reconnect with your spouse. If you are unmarried, take this time to meet new people who you have something in common with.

2. Make time for friends.

3. Make a dream list, including places you want to visit, things you want to accomplish.

4. Find a hobby.

5. Find your purpose, such as volunteering your time to your church or a charity.

6. Take a class or start a new career.

7. Talk with other empty-nesters.

8. Seek a counselor or a life coach.

Know that these empty feelings typically last for a year or two. Do not make any major changes during this time, as the choices one makes under duress are typically unwise ones. So, be patient with yourself and follow the above steps. You are sure to find a new, exciting way to define yourself.

• Ahwatukee Foothills resident Kristina Welker is a doctor of psychology and a licensed professional counselor in private practice. She is a member of the Ahwatukee Behavioral Health Network. Reach her at (480) 893-6767 or drkristinawelker@cox.net.

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