5 Signs and Symptoms of Empty Nest Syndrome

After I wrote my book Doing Life with Your Adult Children: Keep Your Mouth Shut and the Welcome Mat Out, I continued to get more and more questions on living with the empty nest. I had purposely chose not to write on it in that previous book. Today, I am in the midst of research and writing on living with the Empty Nest. This blog is on what is called the Empty Nest Syndrome. It’s an actual syndrome that some parents experience deeply.

It seems like just yesterday you held your newborn baby in your arms and promised to take care of and love them forever. Now, your last child is leaving home, and you’re not sure what to do with yourself. It’s a normal feeling—and there is a common name for it: empty nest syndrome.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed and deeply saddened by your child moving out of the home, you might be experiencing empty nest syndrome. These are the five most common signs of this syndrome.

1. A Loss of Purpose

Your days were once filled with soccer practice, piano lessons, parent-teacher conferences, playdates, carpooling, and birthday parties. Now, without all of that hustle and bustle, you might not be sure what to do with yourself. Despite your friends, family, work, and other activities, your days still might feel a bit empty.

This feeling is typical for parents whose children recently left the nest. You were once defined by your role as a parent, but that’s no longer your main focus.

After some time, though, you can realize how much more purpose you can find in your life, particularly if you use the time you have gained to pick up a new hobby or tackle a new challenge. In the meantime, it’s normal to feel a sense of grief as you come to terms with the fact that a chapter of your life has ended.

2. Frustration Over Lack of Control

For years and years, you had the majority of control over scheduling your children’s lives—but no longer. You won’t know exactly what your child is doing anymore.

The lack of control over when your child is attending class, going to work, going on a date, or hanging out with friends can be frustrating. You might also feel a bit left out when you don’t know about your child’s day-to-day schedule.

Avoid becoming a helicopter parent and don’t use guilt trips on your children to convince them to keep you more involved in their lives.

Helicoptering will backfire in the end. Instead, focus on coping with your discomfort in healthy ways. With time, this can get easier. You’ll get used to your child being in charge of their own life and you can begin to develop a new sense of normal in your life.

3. Emotional Distress

If you break into tears over sappy commercials or while you’re driving down the road, don’t freak out. Your life is incredibly emotional right now, and when that’s the case, events or people who you typically would have brushed off become a much bigger deal.

Becoming an empty nester can stir up a variety of emotions. Perhaps you’re sad that your child is grown up, angry at yourself for not being home more often, nervous about the state of your marriage, scared that you’re growing older, and frustrated that you’re not where you imagined you’d be at this phase in your life.

Whatever you feel is OK. Trying to deny your pain or suppressing your sadness won’t make it go away.

Allow yourself to feel whatever emotions crop up for you. Facing uncomfortable emotions head-on can actually help them subside faster than pushing them away.

4. Marital Stress

In the process of raising a child, many couples set their relationship aside and make the family revolve around the kids. If you’ve spent years neglecting your marriage, you might find your relationship needs some work once the kids are gone.

You might not know what to do with yourselves as a couple if your activities always revolved around soccer games and piano recitals. Getting to know one another can feel like a bit of a challenge.

Also, some couples find they react differently to becoming empty nesters. If one of you is adjusting better or appreciating life without kids in the home more than the other, you may experience more tension in the relationship. Make it a goal to get reacquainted to life as a twosome.

Look at this time as an opportunity to reconnect and rediscover what led you to ​fall in love in the first place.

5. Anxiety About Your Children

Whether your child has gone to college or simply moved into their own place, it’s normal to worry about how they are faring after they’ve left the nest. What isn’t normal, however, is to feel constant anxiety about how your child is getting by.

Checking in multiple times a day or investing hours into checking your child’s social media accounts won’t be helpful to either of you. Avoid calling to ask them if they are remembering to floss or to nag them about doing their homework. This is your child’s opportunity to spread his wings and practice using all those skills you taught him while he lived at home.

Balance your desire to check-in with your child’s need for privacy and create a plan for how you’ll stay connected. You might set up a weekly phone call, communicate frequently via text or email, or have a weekly dinner date if your child lives nearby. 

A Word From Verywell

With 18 or more years under your belt as a parent with a house filled with children, this can be a scary and emotional time in your life. Rest assured, the feelings you are experiencing now will fade as you grow accustomed to a quieter house and a life more focused on your own desires.

If you feel like your life no longer has meaning or you think your depression or anxiety might be worse than what’s normal, seek professional help.

Surrounding yourself with people who know the feeling—whether it’s a support group or just friends going through the same process—can also help you get through this difficult time. You have done your job as a parent, and now it’s time to enjoy life as a parent of adult children, with all the freedom and opportunities that it can provide.

This article first appeared here.

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Amy Morin

Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She is also a psychotherapist and the international bestselling author of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do and 13 Things Mentally Strong Parents Don't Do. Her books are translated into more than 30 languages. She's also a lecturer at Northeastern University. Her articles attract over 2 million readers every month. Her TEDx talk, "The Secret of Becoming Mentally Strong," quickly became one of the top 25 talks of all time with over 9 million views. She hosts the Mentally Strong Podcast, which launched in September 2020. Some of the media outlets that have featured her advice include Fast Company, Time, Parents, Oprah.com, Fox News, Business Insider, and US News & World Report. She also appears in the Red Bull TV show Visions of Greatness. Her latest book, 13 Things Mentally Strong Women Don't Do, went on sale in December 2018.

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