Empty nest syndrome comes with a lot of complex feelings — but not all of them are bad. Read on to find out more about this chapter of life.
Empty nest syndrome refers to the complex grief parents feel when their children leave home.
If you’re currently in this chapter of life, know that it’s very common to feel all sorts of huge feelings right now.
You are going through a major transition in life, and these tend to come with growing pains.
Know that there is hope.
For most people, the emotional distress that comes with this adjustment period is only temporary.
And you don’t have to do any of this alone.
Our Peanut community is there to help you through this and all other stages of motherhood.
It can be a massive help to connect with others who are where you’re at.
With that in mind, we’ll take you through exactly what it means to have an empty nest, and how to cope with this major life transition.
In this article: 📝
- What does it mean to have an empty nest?
- What are the symptoms of empty nest syndrome?
- How does one deal with an empty nest?
- Empty nest syndrome: the final word
What does it mean to have an empty nest?
Your nest empties when your kids move out of home.
This is a significant part of motherhood that can leave you with a range of mixed feelings, including serious emotional distress.
While it’s often referred to as a syndrome, it’s not actually a clinical diagnosis.
That being said, it is connected with other mental health conditions.
Research shows, for example, that elderly people who are empty nesters are far more susceptible to depression than other elderly people.
It’s common to feel sad and lonely at this time.
For the last number of years, you’ve spent a significant amount of energy keeping the youngest members of your household fed, clothed, and on the path toward being a good citizen.
And there’s a great deal of purpose that goes with that mammoth task.
When your kids leave, it may feel like that purpose has suddenly been taken away from you, and with that, a sense of meaning.
You may also be feeling nervous about your children’s safety and well-being as they head out into the big wide world, which can be a serious source of anxiety.
Plus, this major lifestyle change can impact your relationship with your partner.
After having had a full house, it’s suddenly just the two of you, and you might have to find whole new ways to connect.
The impact of this shift is so big that the term “empty nester divorce” has hit our vocabulary.
Estimates are that divorce rates for people over the age of 50 have doubled since 1990.
There are so many reasons why relationships hit obstacles at this point.
Your kids have been a major shared focus for all these years.
With them out of the house, you may feel as if you struggle to find points of connection.
Some couples stay together for their kids and, at this point, have to decide what to do next.
This time of life also coincides with another huge transition — menopause — and, with it, a range of uncomfortable symptoms that can affect both your physical and mental health.
(Psst. If you’re looking for tools to help you communicate with your partner about where you’re at, head here for our Letter to My Husband During Menopause template)
But it’s certainly not all bad news.
There’s also research to suggest that, for some people, an empty nest doesn’t feel empty at all.
In fact, it can lead to improved relationships and new passions.
You may just find a whole new you — complete with exciting new passions and purpose — waiting on the other side of it.
So here’s the deal — you’re 100% allowed to feel proud, passionate, confused, and sad all at the same time.
You’re mourning the end of an era and saying goodbye to the beings that have warmed your house.
But you may also be celebrating as they go off to experience the world and do great things in it.
Plus, it can be a time for you to rediscover parts of yourself that have been traveling in the backseat over the past years — and who knows, you may even uncover passions that you didn’t know you had.
What are the symptoms of empty nest syndrome?
Because empty nest syndrome is not a medical condition, it doesn’t technically have symptoms like other conditions do.
But there are many experiences that are common as you go through this time.
- Feelings of sadness
- Excessive worry about the well-being of your children
- Emotional fatigue
- Feeling unmotivated
- Feeling like you’ve lost meaning or purpose
- Feeling like you don’t have control
- Fear of growing older
- Regret about parenting decisions you’ve made
- Frustration that you’re not where you want to be in your life at this point
But like so many things motherhood, we all go through empty nest syndrome in our own way. There are no cookie-cutter paths through this, and no “wrong” ways to feel.
IMPORTANT: If you are experiencing sadness, overwhelm, and anxiety that is severe or long-lasting, reach out to your healthcare provider.
It may mean that you’re struggling with a mental health condition like anxiety or depression.
You don’t have to just write this off to being part of this phase of life.
If you need help finding mental health resources, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration offers this handy guide that includes a treatment facility locator and helpline that’s available round the clock.
How does one deal with an empty nest?
The next steps are all about finding purpose, connection, and meaning in this next phase of life.
Here are our top tips:
Nurture your relationships
Now’s the time to focus on the close connections in your life, whether with a partner, dear friends, or beloved family members.
And the research agrees.
Feeling connected to others improves our mental and physical health, and promotes meaning in our lives.
Spend time with your grown-up kid(s)
Getting to know the person your child has become is a particularly rewarding experience.
As the nature of your relationship changes, you may feel as though you start to relate more like peers than as parent and child.
This can be great for both of you!
And with all the technology we have at our fingertips — email, social media, FaceTime, Zoom — you can spend quality time with your adult children wherever they are in the world.
Participate in social activities
As well as giving time and attention to established relationships, participating in social activities can help you forge new bonds.
Who knows what great new friendship is around the corner?
Positive social engagement has been shown to improve health both mentally and physically.
Peanut is a great place to meet people who are where you’re at. We’re firm believers in going through this together.
Find new passions — or come back to old ones
One thing you may have more of than you did before?
This might be the perfect opportunity to launch that Spoken Word career, take up belly dancing, or volunteer at a local organization that you care about.
That means making sure you are properly nourished, getting exercise, and doing things you love.
You’ve spent a lot of time caring for others. It’s only fair that you spend time caring for yourself.
Seek professional counseling
Seeing a therapist can help you navigate the complexities of this transition.
Together with your counselor, you can set goals for the future, come to a deeper understanding of the feelings you’re experiencing, and make sense of this new phase of life.
Empty nest syndrome: the final word
This time of life can greatly impact your emotional well-being and relationships.
But there are also many positives that come with this time, including newfound passions, connections old and new, and space to spend time on yourself.
We wish you all the best as you start this new chapter of your life.