top of page

How to Cope With Empty Nest Syndrome

Updated: Aug 20, 2023

We’ve all heard the term “empty nesters;” when parents feel grief or an immense amount of sorrow and sadness when their kid(s) move out of the house. While it’s a very normal part of life for parents to have their children move out, that doesn’t make it any less difficult when it happens. Because it’s expected for them to eventually leave, it feels almost taboo to feel upset about that or people may often feel like they are not “allowed” to be grieving that loss. But if no one has said it yet, it is more than okay to feel that sense of loss when your children are out of the house. It is a big life change that both you and your child are adjusting to. While it’s okay and normal to feel sad about it for a little while, it’s important to make sure you have the tools to cope with this new found freedom, learn to let go just a little bit, and make sure there’s a fine balance between being involved but not overly so in your kids' lives.

It’s hard to adjust to having your kids out of the house, whether they go away to school, are working and living at their own place, traveling the world, etc. It can sometimes be even harder to get used to the idea that your kids are “on their own” and have this freedom that can be incredibly different than when they lived under your roof. They may not listen to you the same way they did, they may not exactly “need” you in the same way that you are used to, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need you at all. That doesn’t mean you are not their parent and that your relationship will change fully. With their new freedom also comes new found freedom and independence for you, and your partner if you have one. While you are still a parent and have responsibilities, you may not have the exact same responsibilities you had and you may have more free time than you realize once there are no longer kids in the house. This new time and freedom may seem overwhelming at first and people can often feel like they don’t know what to do with their time. A lot of the time, the relationship between their spouses has been put on the back burner due to making their kids the priority and getting them to where they need to be. But now that part of that is done, it leaves more time to focus on yourself, both individually and within your relationship. It’s important to make sure that connection with your partner is still as strong as it can be and pour more time and energy into that now that you are able to.

With all that being said, it’s important to also make sure there’s a balance between focusing on yourself, your relationship, and the new time and freedom that you have, while also making sure you’re still involved in your kid’s life. There’s a balance between all of that, and it can be hard to maintain at times. It can be hard to let go of some of that control and recognize that they are and can be on their own. It’s normal to feel a mix of emotions, to feel proud of them and to see them go off on their own, while also feeling sad to see them go and even a little worried about their well being. Validate your feelings, talk to your partner about how you’re feeling, because you are not alone. Here are a few things that you can do that can help cope with these feelings and to help with the adjustment of having an “empty nest.”

  • Focus on social connections and outside relationships

As mentioned above, people can be so focused on their kids and what they need that they lose time for themselves and their relationship and social lives take a back seat. This can be the perfect time to put more time and effort into that and create and expand more of those connections, both individually and with your partner. Focus on connecting back with your partner and spending time with them in ways you maybe weren’t always able to with the kids in the house. Make time to hang with friends and plan activities that you’ve been wanting to do but maybe haven’t had the time to.

  • Set future goals for yourself and/or your relationship

Sometimes we can get very focused on the past and how things used to be that it can become hard to adjust to the present and how things are moving forward. Having a goal to look forward to and work towards can help to alleviate some of those feelings and give ourselves some motivation when we feel like we don’t always know what to do now that our kids are gone and we have more time to ourselves. These can be professional goals, personal goals, goals within your relationship, whatever type of goal you want, but make sure your goals are tailored towards and meaningful to you.

  • Take up a new hobby

Again, when we spend most of our time on our family and kids, we lose sight of the things we used to enjoy doing. Exploring different hobbies and interests can be a great thing not only to help fill up time but also to give yourself something to look forward to and something that brings you joy. Having hobbies that you can do by yourself, with friends, and your partner are all important things to help maintain positive mental and physical health.

  • Practice self-care and focus on the positives

Practicing self-care can be difficult at times, but it’s most important when we are going through a big life change and dealing with strong emotions. We need to be kind to ourselves and recognize that these feelings are normal, we just need to learn how to cope with them and adjust to the new changes. Set aside time for yourself, even if it feels weird or you feel like you “should” be doing something else. It’s important to take care of ourselves so we can take care of others and the things we need to do.

  • Keep in touch with your kid(s) and continue to strengthen that relationship

This may be an obvious one, but it’s crucial. We are in a day and age where it’s pretty easy to stay in touch with your kids or anyone on a regular basis, even if there’s physical distance between you. Again, this is a time that is a big change for both the kids and the parents. Make sure your relationship evolves in a positive and healthy way even while they are away, and focus on ways to work on that. It may be different and more challenging than what your relationship looked like when they lived at home, but that doesn’t make it any less valuable or important, to both of you. Make sure it’s still a priority while also not over-fixating on it, even though that can be easier said than done.

Your journey may be different from your friends journey or siblings journey when their kids leave the house and that’s okay. There’s no right or wrong way to handle situations and life changes like that. It’s important to make sure you allow yourself to feel whatever you need to, react and cope in appropriate ways, and focus on what’s in your control and how to adjust to this time in the best way possible. If you need additional support, seeking professional help can always help to navigate through that process.

Written by,

Emily Blair, ALMFT



bottom of page