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March 8, 2014
by Christie Hunter

Your Children Have Flown - Now What? Coping with Empty Nest Syndrome

March 8, 2014 04:55 by Christie Hunter  [About the Author]

An Empty Nest

It is a day that you have worked toward for years - the day you send your child off to college. You have prepared for this moment their whole life, saving up for their education and teaching them the skills they will need to be a successful adult. Yet while your child is suddenly immersed in the wild chaos of college, your home is deafeningly quiet. How do you endure having an empty nest?

Many parents experience what is called “empty nest syndrome” when their children grow up and move out of the house. Typically, this is a natural phase of adult life. However, empty nest syndrome, also known as the “postparental period”, may be marked with depression and overwhelming sadness. The grief associated with empty nest syndrome is based on just that – emptiness.

Suddenly, a parent may find themselves confronting the loss of an identity, activity and companionship when a child leaves home. Parents who were exceptionally close to their children will experience the greatest burden. Additionally, many adults are at retirement age when their children leave home, meaning that they may also be enduring the loss of a daily routine.

It is normal for a mother in particular to be vulnerable to empty nest syndrome because they tend to dedicate their lives to the rearing of children. They suffer an identity crisis when the role of caretaker is removed from them and they are forced to find a way to fill the time that was once devoted to the occupation of child-rearing. Mothers who work tend to deal with the void better because they have an identity as something other than a mother. Women also have the added challenge of going through menopause at this stage in life and facing the end of the reproductive years adds extra feelings of loss. [1]

There are additional feelings of stress and anxiety associated with a child leaving home. Parents may begin to worry over their child's well-being and wonder if they have sufficiently prepared the child for adulthood. Ironically, if the parents have done a good job of raising the child and they enter adulthood happy and productive, they may feel a sense of rejection. Conversely, if the parents suddenly find themselves enjoying their new found freedom, they may experience guilt for being free, especially if there was disagreement and animosity between parent and child.

The ability to adjust to new roles and changed circumstances is a critical part of coping with empty nest syndrome. Those who have difficulty establishing peer connections with their adult children and reconnecting to their spouses after so many years with a child in the home are more likely to become exceptionally sad. [2] It is beneficial to identify in advance those who may be at greater risk of depression when the children leave home due to poor coping skills and teach them a set of styles to deal with stress and change.

What can you do if you are having difficulty handling the separation?

Obviously, one thing you can do is to keep in touch with your child. In today's world there are many great innovations for communicating. Social media, mobile texting and email are easy ways with which to stay connected to your child. Be sure to set up a Skype account, as it makes face to face long distance communication free and immediate. (If you can't figure out how to use it, have your child show you before they go.)

If you are worried that you may not handle the separation well, plan ahead. Decide beforehand how you will fill that void and extra time with work, hobbies or travel. Prepare in advance to create a new definition of your identity if you had previously identified yourself only as a parent. Use your new energy to take care of yourself or direct it towards helping your children succeed. [3] If you find that you are not adjusting well after several weeks and the depression is lingering, it is a good idea to seek support, either by communicating with other empty nesters or a professional therapist.

Your child moving out of your house need not be a bad experience, however. This is a great time to explore life. You may want to rekindle some romance with your spouse, take up that hobby you always wanted to try or just to do something crazy and fun. Don't get too comfortable, though. With the bad economy, young adults are finding it harder to find work and are moving back home in large numbers. 36% of young adults ages 18 - 31 – a record 21.6 million people - were living with their parents in 2012. [4] Your empty nest may just become full again, just as you were beginning to enjoy your freedom.


[1] [“The Empty Nest Syndrome: Myth or Reality?” Jana L. Raup and Jane E. Myers. 1989,%20Myers,%201989-The%20Empty%20Nest%20Syndrome.pdf ]

[2] [ Empty-Nest Syndrome, Gender and Family Size as Predictors of Aged’s Adjustment Pattern I.C. Mbaeze and Elochukwu Ukwandu 2011 ]

[3] [“Empty nest syndrome: Tips for coping” May Clinic Staff ]

[4] [Pew Research Center “A Rising Share of Young Adults Live in Their Parents’ Home A Record 21.6 Million In 2012” by Richard Fry]


About the Author

Christie Hunter

Christie Hunter is registered clinical counselor in British Columbia and co-founder of Theravive. She is a certified management accountant. She has a masters of arts in counseling psychology from Liberty University with specialty in marriage and family and a post-graduate specialty in trauma resolution. In 2007 she started Theravive with her husband in order to help make mental health care easily attainable and nonthreatening. She has a passion for gifted children and their education. You can reach Christie at 360-350-8627 or write her at christie - at -

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