Therapist: Empty Nest is more natural, less pathological

COLUMBIA (WIS) - The Midlands are now a buzz as most area colleges are back in full swing. However, that also means things may be a little quieter around some households.

While it's called Empty Nest Syndrome, therapists say it's not a pathological concern. They say all families will go through a time of transition, but it's how you prepare for and adjust to that transition that is critical for both parent and child.

Columbia mom, Ericka Stoxstell is going through that transition now. Her 18 year-old son, Darnell, recently left for his freshman year at Benedict College. Ericka says she started feeling the beginnings of Empty Nest Syndrome when Darnell's younger brother, Jordan, moved to Chicago two years ago to live with her ex-husband.

"For the last 18 years, he and his brother were all I had and they were my entertainment," said Ericka Stoxstell. "I nurtured them, I cooked for them… Now there's no one to cook for, there's no one to talk and so the house is much quieter."

Family therapist Dr. April Hames with the Columbia Counseling Center says Ericka's feelings are more than normal. "Kind of the purpose of a family is the care, protection and socialization of children until they get to an age that they can be independent adults," said Dr. Hames. "At this point in the family life cycle, adults have to refocus relationships with their children on creating some sort of adult relationship with their child."

Dr. Hames says that new relationship has several key elements. "I think mutual respect, unconditional love and teaching both the child to be courageous, no matter what, and for the child to give the parent all the reasons that he or she needs to know that they have done their job... and when faced with a difficult decision, the child knows the right decision to make," said Dr. Hames.

Hames suggests talking with your child about the transition, like how often you'll speak and visit. That's something the Stoxstells say they have already done. "If he needs me, I'm here," said Ericka. "But I want him to know… treat it as though we're in different states. I'm not around the corner, I want you to feel like you are doing this," she added.

Darnell says he feels encouraged and knows he's turning a new page. "I kind of realize there is a life outside of [practicing music in] my room," said Darnell. "But I still have to keep a good discipline about my studies and my practice because with more freedom there are more responsibilities."

Both Ericka and Darnell do agree that with this new freedom, the possibilities are endless.

"I feel like this is a step for the both of us," said Darnell. "I don't know what the possibilities are, I don't know what's next for me, but I'm excited about it," added Ericka.

Dr. Hames says that parents should try redirecting a lot of the energy they spent on their children into other relationships, or their careers or hobbies. She adds that if you find yourself crying excessively or spending a lot of time in your child's room, you may have an extreme case of Empty Nest Syndrome in which visiting a general health care provider or a therapist is the best option.

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