Empty Nest Syndrome

When your children are young, you can’t wait for the day they become independent adults. It’s a time to reclaim the next chapter in your life. Yet, when that day comes and everyone has moved out, it’s hard to let go. It’s hard for both moms and dads. This stage of life is commonly called “empty nest syndrome.” It can cause feelings of sadness, grief, and depression. Even though you want your children to grow up and be on their own, it feels like a loss.

Path to improved well being

Empty nest syndrome doesn’t have to be a change for the worse. There are many ways to prepare for this stage of life. Rethinking the experience can help. Don’t think of it as a loss. Think of it as a new adventure. Consider the possibilities:

  • It can be fun to visit your child in a new place if he or she moves away.
  • There’s more time to spend with your spouse or partner.
  • You’ll save money once your kids move out.
  • You have more time for your personal growth (hobbies or career).

Tips for adjusting to empty nest syndrome include:

  • Prepare. While your children are in high school, get used to the idea that they are becoming independent. At this age, your children will spend more time away from home.
  • Develop your own interests. Your identity has been tied to being a parent for a long time. During that time, you may have sacrificed the things you like to do. Learn to bring those things back into your life. Enjoy.
  • Stay positive. You can see the glass as half empty or half full. Choose to see it as half full. You may need to work at being positive. However, the longer you try, the more successful you will be.
  • Look for support. Support comes in all forms — friends, family, church groups, and counselors.
  • Get out and move. Sadness and negativity are more likely to occur when you are housebound. Make a point of getting out every day to exercise or just take a walk at a neighborhood park. Mix it up by doing different activities as often as you can.
  • Volunteer. Helping others takes the focus off of yourself.
  • Don’t compare your choices to your children’s. Our children’s choices about when to leave the nest and how far to go may differ from our own. Accept their choices and remember you had the same opportunities to choose when you were a young adult.
  • Discover new traditions and activities with your children. Look for ways to reconnect with your children once they’ve moved out. Perhaps it’s having Thanksgiving in their new home instead of yours.

Things to consider

Empty nest syndrome is not a medical diagnosis. However, if not treated, it can cause depression and affect your health. If you have a medical condition, empty nest syndrome may make it worse. For example, if you have type 2 diabetes, you may give up on eating right. If you take medicine for a health condition, you may forget to take your medicine. Other negative effects of empty nest syndrome include:

  • Marital or partner strain. Worrying too much about your child can take valuable, quality time away from your marriage or partner relationship.
  • Guilt. This is particularly true if your children are not making good choices once they leave the nest. You may feel it is due to how you raised them.
  • Insomnia. Difficulty sleeping can occur whenever you are stressed or depressed.
  • Work distraction. Depression over your children leaving home can lead to distractions at work and difficulty concentrating.
  • Alcoholism. If you tend to drink a small amount of alcohol on a regular basis, you may be tempted to drink more when you are depressed.

If you are worried empty nest syndrome will be difficult for you, ask yourself these questions to prepare:

  • Do I do well with change in general?
  • Does my identity revolve around parenting?
  • Do I constantly feel guilty?
  • Is my relationship with my spouse or partner distant?
  • Do I have too much free time?

If you are concerned about how you will handle empty nest syndrome or if it is currently upsetting you, talk to your doctor.

Questions to ask your doctor

  • How can I tell if my depression is related to empty nest syndrome or something else?
  • Can anti-depressant medicine help with empty nest syndrome?
  • Should I seek individual counseling or family counseling with my children and spouse/partner?
  • How do I stop worrying about my children all of the time?
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