Dealing with Empty Nest Syndrome

Although not a clinical diagnosis or disorder, “empty nest syndrome” refers to the general feeling of grief or sadness that is felt by parents or primary caregivers when the object of their care (usually their children) leaves home. The syndrome arises out of the profound loss of identity and purpose that parents have when they no longer have children to care for. This usually occurs when the last of the kids leave home to move into their own place, get married or go to college, leaving the parents with an ’empty nest’. We are led to believe that this syndrome tends to affect more women than men, because it is during this time that women also experience other events in their lives like menopause or caring for elderly parents but that is not always the case. As men have become more in their children’s lives and are also dealing with their own aging parents, they are not immune to empty nest syndrome.


It’s completely normal to feel sad or melancholy, nostalgic, and reflective. It’s when these feelings start to interfere with your ability to cope or impact your daily life that you may want to consider some extra support!

(NOTE: it’s also completely normal to not feel these things but rather a feel excitement for the road ahead – this does not mean you are a bad parent!)

  • Excessive sadness to the point of depression
  • Excessive crying
  • Inability to “let go’ or” move on” (perhaps you’re spending lots of time in your child’s old room and can’t seem to leave or entertain the thought of redecorating)
  • Lack of interest in leaving the house or getting together with other family or friends
  • Inability to concentrate that affects your work or life in general
  • A sever loss of identity – like you’re no longer a “parent” and have no idea who you are now.

In cases like these, professional help is needed especially if the symptoms last for more than a week. Counselling as well as speaking to an Psychologist can help the parent gain back her perspective on life and assist in making the transition more ‘smooth’.


When it comes to empty nest syndrome, the best thing to do is to take advantage of the opportunities offered by the fact that you no longer have children to care for in the house. Consider these newfound advantages of this time of change in your life:

  • This is a great time to reconnect with your spouse or partner (if you have one). Remember what the two of you were like before you became parents?
  • You have more time to socialize and reconnect with friends or other family members.
  • You can focus more on your career.
  • You are free to do more of those niggling tasks you’ve always been meaning to complete.
  • You have time to take up a new hobby.
  • You may even want to travel more and discover the world!

Of course, you will likely still miss that regular contact with your children, but there are things you can do to ease the pain of missing them and to foster a new kind of connection:

  • Schedule regular online video meetings or phone calls.
  • Texts or emails are good too – but you may want to hear their voice to feel more connected. Note: If you become particularly emotional during phone calls or video chats – then written communication may work better at first.
  • If they are in the same locations, try to make a new (or perhaps maintain an existing) family tradition such as Sunday dinners or getting together for monthly movie or games nights, or perhaps watching a favourite TV show together.

You’ll notice these are all structured or scheduled communication ideas. At first, limiting the communication is a good way of letting go little by little. The first times are always hard, both for the parent and the child. It’s always important to remember that this is the most crucial time for your child to discover the world on their own, so this could be an emotional time for them as well. Try not to show them that you’re upset during every call and don’t expect your child to curtail their activities for you. The worst mistake would be to ask your child to come home if you are feeling the pangs of loneliness because the problem lies with you and not with the absence of your child.

Finally, go easy on yourself. This is a major change in your life and your family dynamics. With every change there is an ending and with and ending usually comes grief. So, it’s okay to feel sad, and even a little lost. Allow yourself to feel what you’re feeling. Take some downtime. But don’t wallow and set a time to move one and see this as a new and exciting phase in your life as well! And if you find you are just not able to cope or to move on, then you may want to get some support through this transition.

“Your child’s life will be filled with fresh experiences. It’s good if yours is as well” ~Dr. Margaret Rutherford

Insight is here for you with therapists who can help you during this time.