Homemade bread and backyard chickens weren't the only trends to take off during the pandemic. Cohabitation between parents and young adult children skyrocketed, too, with the number of 18- to 29-year-olds living at home reaching levels not seen since the Great Depression, according to 2020 findings from the Pew Research Center.
But as colleges and workplaces across the country begin to reopen, many young adults who returned home in the last year are preparing to leave the nest once more. It's a change that can find parents grappling with feelings of loss and sadness — but experts say the transition to an empty nest doesn't need to be fraught a second time around. Here are their strategies to ease the adjustment.
Prioritize trust and mutual communication
"Pandemic or not, we know that parents are going to worry about their children no matter what is going on in the world,” says Connecticut-based clinical psychologist Holly Schiff. She notes that parents facing an empty nest after months of pandemic cohabitation might struggle with coronavirus-specific concerns, like wondering whether their child is practicing social distancing and wearing a mask outside the home.
To combat pandemic-related worries, Schiff recommends parents first make an effort to trust that their young adult children are capable of taking responsibility for their own health and well-being. Next, consider setting up a dedicated time to check in with your child, whether that means a daily chat on the phone or a weekly Zoom call (just be sure that your child also agrees to the timing and frequency of these chats).
As for what not to do? “The biggest mistake I've seen parents make, and the thing you'd like to avoid, is leaning on your child for [emotional] support,” she says. “That can harm the parent-child relationship and may actually intensify empty-nest feelings.”
Instead, Schiff recommends that empty nesters look to strengthen relationships with friends and other loved ones and spend their free time focusing on hobbies and projects — like volunteer work, taking college classes, or training for a fitness goal — they may have put on the back burner while their children were at home.