Dealing with an Empty Nest

Craig DeSilva
September 28, 2015

For 17 years, Phil and Iris Uehisa’s lives revolved around their daughter.

They’d take Kimberly to school, help her with homework and school projects, and attend her school activities, including paddling, tennis, and track. So when Kimberly left to attend the University of California, Los Angeles last month, her departure was bittersweet.

“It’s been our dream ever since she was in kindergarten to have her graduate high school and go to college,” said Iris. “We’re happy that it’s happened. But, on the other hand, she’s not here. We miss her and need to adjust to the emptiness.”

Class of 2015: Iris and Phil Uehisa with their only daughter, Kimberly, at her high school graduation from Island Pacific Academy in May. Iris and Phil have been dealing with an empty nest ever since Kimberly left for college in Los Angeles.

Although they want Kimberly to be independent, they still worry about her. “I think about her a lot and wonder if she’s doing her laundry,” said Iris. “But I want her to develop into the person she needs to be. I need to give her space to adjust to college life and let her grow.”

It’s normal for parents to experience a sense of sadness and loss when their child goes away for college. This feeling is known as empty nest syndrome. “Letting your child go can be a painful experience,” said Lisa Mundon, a healthy lifestyle coach at Healthways Hawaii. “You may miss being part of your child’s daily life and having their constant companionship.”

Mundon said these feelings won’t last forever and that parents should focus on the opportunities of being an “empty nester.” In the past, research suggested that parents dealing with empty nest syndrome experience a sense of loss that can lead to depression, alcoholism, identity crisis, and marital conflicts. But according to a recent MayoClinic study, an empty nest can reduce work and family conflicts and provide parents many benefits to reconnect with each other and strengthen their marriage.

“Find something that gives you a sense of purpose to help ease the feeling of loss,” said Mundon. “However, if you continue to become depressed, contact your doctor for professional help.”

Are you an empty nester? Mundon has these tips on how to cope:

•    Plan ahead. Prepare for the day that your child will leave.
•    Keep busy. Take on new challenges and explore your interests.
•    Refocus. Tend to your needs and your marriage.
•    Reach out. Contact family and friends for support and companionship.

Kimberly is adjusting to life on the University of California, Los Angeles campus without mom and dad.

The Uehisas keep in touch with their daughter almost every day through FaceTime, Facebook, and text messages. They’ll visit her on campus next month during Parents Week and when they attend a football game between UCLA and University of California, Berkeley – Phil’s alma mater. They’ll also see each other during Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. “I’ll see her more now than when she was at home,” laughed Phil, a realtor. 

For Iris, it’s an opportunity for some “me time.” She’ll take up past hobbies that she put on hold when Kimberly was born, such as needlecraft, cross stitching, and crochet. She’s planning to start a vegetable garden, tackle projects around the home, cook recipes she’s seen on the Food Network, volunteer for a charitable organization, and read books on her “to-do” list.

Phil and Iris are also enjoying more alone time together with dinner and movie dates.

And what about Kimberly’s bedroom? Iris isn’t ready to turn it into a sewing room anytime soon. “I want her to feel like she has a room to come home to,” she said.

Kimberly (middle) was a 2015 recipient of the HMSA Kaimana Awards & Scholarship. She poses with her parents at the awards luncheon in June at the Hawaii Convention Center.

Photos: Courtesy of the Uehisas

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