When you sign up to be a parent you know that one day your little ones will grow up to be adults of their own. They go off to college, move to a new city, or take another exciting life path around the age of 18. Suddenly, your nearly two decades of nurturing has paid off and it is finally time for them to be on their own. It’s an incredibly exciting time in your life and theirs but can also lead to loneliness and depression once they truly leave the nest.
Hobbies, work, and your partner are great distractions and help maintain a fulfilling life, but oftentimes empty nesters miss having someone to nurture and provide for. Many empty nesters have found that investing their time in a new pet offers them the chance to feel needed by a little one again and can have positive effects on their mood and mental health.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, owning a pet has incredible benefits whether or not you are trying to fill a new void of a grown child. Pets increase opportunities to exercise and get outside, decrease blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and help manage loneliness, depression and anxiety. News in Health, published by the National Institutes of Health, reported that 68% of U.S. households have a pet, and pet owners over the age of 65 make 30% fewer visits to their doctors.
Having a pet in your life offers new companionship as dogs, cats, and other animals are very present and can tell when someone is struggling or lonely. Dr. Anne Berger, a News in Health physician and researcher, points out that “their attention is focused on the person all the time,” creating a similar feeling to having a child (except maybe a teenager). Your new pet will give you back a sense of purpose as they will rely on you for every aspect of their livelihood.
Additionally, pets, especially dogs, are a great way to improve your mental and physical health if you’ve found yourself in a depression or just need to get moving a little more. Studies have shown petting a dog can calm a person’s nerves and their energy levels can boost your own. Dogs also need long walks and time outside, which is great exercise for you, too. Just being outside has proven to boost mood levels and physical health, and when you add exercise on top of that, the benefits compound.
Once your child goes off the school or leaves the house, you could feel like you’re out a friend. Your new pet can, of course, be one of your new best friends, but they’re also great at making new human friends. Owners who take their pets out on the town can meet new people through training classes, pet stores, parks, or just walking through your neighborhood. If someone stops and asks to pet your dog, start up a conversation. You might meet some people in the same empty nest predicament.
Having a pet can get you back into a routine. Sure, traveling and living out your child-free days can be thrilling for the first few weeks, but once the feeling of loneliness sets in, it’s important to return to a routine so that you have a structure to rely on day to day. Pets require scheduled feeding, walks, sleeping, and play time. If you can create a schedule for your pet, it allows you to get back into a daily routine and create stability.
While choosing whether to welcome a new four-legged member into your home is a big decision – one that should take your free time, energy level, health concerns, and financial situation into consideration – fostering a new relationship with a pet is a great way to find happiness after your children have gone off into the wild. Plus, if you get a new pet, your children may be tempted to visit home much more often!