Empty Nest Syndrome is Real

4 min read

What is Empty Nest Syndrome? 

It is a life transition that leaves parents with feelings of loneliness, loss, or a level of grief when their last adult child leaves home or goes off to college.  It is not a clinical disorder, but it can trigger feelings of anxiety and depression.  

I vividly remember the day I left home. I was all packed and about to get in my car when my mother came running up to me with tears in her eyes. She gave me a big momma hug and said, “I’m going to miss you”.  Immediately I started crying assuring her I will come back to visit and call. I looked up and saw my father standing on the porch laughing and then I looked at my mother and started laughing. I said, “Oh my Gosh, why are we crying, I’m moving 5 minutes away" and then she started laughing and said, “I don’t know what I was thinking.”  

That seemed like a silly moment, however, 25 years later that moment would repeat with me and my twin daughters, they too were moving 5 minutes away. After the hug I hurried in the house and looked out the window, watching as they pulled out the driveway. In that moment so many mixed emotions came over me of sadness, happiness, fear, I felt empty and thought “what now?” My eyes filled with tears, I wiped my eyes, laughed and thought “now I know what my mother was thinking.” 

If you are reading this, I’m sure you can relate or have a similar story. The day you find out you are expecting, it is a life changing experience, one which continues to transition through different life phases as our children grow. Often folks start “nesting” around the third trimester of the pregnancy and start getting the house prepared by deep cleaning the house, taking inventory, making sure the baby has everything that it will need, stocking, organizing, packing the hospital bag, installing the car seat, etc.  Then you bring your baby home to love and nurture them, preparing them through each stage of development. You are working and helping them meet every milestone of development: physical, cognitive, emotional, and social. And ultimately, the reality is that this whole time you are helping and cheering them on, you are preparing them to one day “leave the nest”. 

Nobody tells us, but the day that they actually “leave the nest”, you may experience the following:

  • Sadness, due to this new separation 
  • Loneliness, a house that was once full of noise is now silent  
  • Emptiness, like you lost your identity or purpose  
  • Worry or Anxiety, may be due to wondering if your child is making good decisions 
  • Fear, for their safety and overall well-being  
  • Frustrated, not having control and not knowing if they are being responsible by going to college/work on time, if they scheduled their medical/dental checkups, what was the outcome, are they being responsible? etc.  
  • Guilt, due to feeling like you did not spend enough time with them or when they left the relationship was strained. 
  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep 
  • Increased stress, headaches, back aches, and stomach aches  
  • Irritable, easily annoyed may be due to a combination of stress, not sleeping, diet, hormonal changes especially for women between the ages of 45 and 55 and are experiencing menopause etc.  

These feelings are normal. However, if you feel like you are stuck in these feelings or think they are getting worse, I highly recommend seeing your doctor to rule out any underlying health conditions, psychiatrist or therapist to further explore these signs and symptoms.  

The truth is, you will always be a parent however, right now in this moment, you have new freedom to live your life.  Remember the times when your children were little, and you were limited with accomplishing goals due to various reasons like no childcare, parent teacher conference, sports, music lessons, helping with homework, laundry, house cleaning, at times rushing home to make dinner, etc. Remember all those dreams you put on hold because you did not have time? Well guess what, now is the time to redefine who you are as a parent of an adult child.  You’re probably thinking where do I start?  Q-Tip…… Yes, Q-Tip  

10 R’s:  How to Cope with Empty Nest Syndrome

  1. Regroup, “Quit Taking It Personal” Accept and embrace this life transition not just for them, but you are in transition too.  
  2. Reset, get out of your head, stop rewinding and replaying “could have”, “should have”, “would have”, and just live in the moment.   
  3. Refocus, from what you can’t control to what you can control, which is how you think and feel about the situation, embrace the positives.  
  4. Reinvent yourself develop a self-care routine exercise, read a book, spa day, focus on your health, go shopping, get a makeover, new wardrobe etc.  
  5. Release, walk it out walking decreases stress, anxiety, and health issues while increasing mood, energy, mental alertness and improves sleep.   
  6. Ready, set “SMART Goals”, make sure they are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely. Be creative, write them down or make a vision board.  
  7. Recommit to your marriage, plan a date night, vacation, etc. to strengthen your relationship. 
  8. Reconnect with old friends this can help with loneliness, who knows they may have a similar experience.  
  9. Reinvest in your hobbies or take up a new hobby like yoga, DIY projects, set up a craft room, garden, cook, travel, volunteer, go back to school, start a blog etc.  
  10. Remain in contact with your children, continue to love them, put in place boundaries with yourself and respect their boundaries.  

Remember an empty nest does not mean that your life is over, it just simply means that this is the next chapter to your life.  This life transition represents the new book that you will start writing by living your life.   

Question:  What is the title of this new book and what is the title of chapter one?  

If you are struggling with this question or signs and symptoms, I encourage you to connect with one of our therapists who would love to help you with this life transition. We have therapists ready in Dallas and Fort Worth to begin your healing journey. 

See you soon! 

About Rosie Crawford

Rosie helps clients who are struggling with addiction, anxiety, anger, abuse, depression, grief, and trauma. She has experience as a case manager in a homeless shelter and as a drug and alcohol counselor at a residential treatment center

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