When your kids were young, you probably dreamed about the time when they would grow up and leave the house. But you may have also dreaded that day, unable to imagine life without the little people you’ve given your heart to.

But ready or not, that day will come. For some parents, this results in feelings of depression. This is also known as empty nest syndrome.

What’s Empty Nest Syndrome?

Parents often experience feelings of sadness and loss when the last child leaves the nest. These feelings are very real and can be difficult to cope with.

Empty nest syndrome is less common these days. That’s because more mothers work outside the home. More adult children are also returning home to live with their parents, a trend known as the “boomerang” generation.

You don’t need to be a helicopter parent to have trouble adjusting to your kids leaving home. Just as it was a transition when you first had children, it’s also going to be a transition when they leave your day-to-day life.

All parents are affected to one degree or another when the kids grow up. Beyond just missing them, a change as simple as not having the noise of an additional person in the house can take some time to adjust to.

Tips to Help Cope

Here are a few tips to help cope with empty nest syndrome.

1. Stay positive.

It doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom. An empty nest also offers the possibility for some positive life changes. Focus on the benefits of having your children out of the house. For example, you’ll enjoy more privacy, lower bills, and a 99 percent chance that you won’t get in a screaming match with someone who tells you they hate you today.

2. Fill the gaps.

Find a way to fill the extra time. For example, you can volunteer for a cause you believe in. You can take up a hobby you’ve never had time for before, or read all the books/watch the movies you’ve put off. You could even go back to school, learn a new language, or travel. This can be a time of opportunity rather than a time of loss.

3. Redefine roles.

Your kids are now adults. It can be confusing to figure out how to relate to each other. No one wants to be the parent whose children complain they won’t leave them alone. But you also don’t want to lose a connection with your kids. Talk to your kids about how often you should get in touch. For example, would a phone call once a week work, or is email better?

4. Enjoy time together.

With the kids gone, you’re going to have a chance to spend more time alone with your partner than you have in years. Prepare for the fact that it may be awkward and that your partner may have changed in ways you didn’t recognize before. You might learn you need to reconnect. It’s time to reinvigorate a relationship that used to revolve around whose turn it was to do things for the kids.

5. Grieve.

Big life changes take time to process. Don’t try to rush it or tell yourself that you shouldn’t be feeling this badly. As a parent, you should be feeling exactly how you feel. Don’t judge it, just give yourself time to mourn the loss and move through it.

6. Get help.

If you find that you have become depressed and that this has started to affect your ability to live your day-to-day life, it’s time to get help. Don’t be afraid to talk to family, friends, or a therapist about what you’re going through.

7. Congratulate yourself!

If you have an empty nest, it means you’ve raised independent children who are capable enough to go out into the world on their own. After all, isn’t that the goal of parenting?