Empty Nest Syndrome – The Other End of Parenting

empty nest syndrome

When we are young, starting a family represents a major shift in focus. It requires us to think about the welfare and happiness of children who look to us for everything. It’s a wonderful and scary transition for young parents, one that involves every thread of their being.

It’s amazing how fast we come to identify with our role as parents. It’s also quite remarkable how much personal growth occurs as a direct result of our commitment to parenting. Being a parent is a learning experience right from the start.

The destination is now in sight

By the time our children are ready to declare their independence, we have usually spent the better part of two decades parenting them. Now, all of a sudden everything is about to change.

We have seen them through the challenges of growing up, and that is no easy task. Parenting is something that most of us take very seriously. We have done our very best to prepare them to take their place in the world as young adults and now that’s about to happen.

Empty nest syndrome – another transition

After decades of living with someone and looking after their needs, their absence will require a major adjustment. With such a huge emotional investment involved, handling empty nest syndrome correctly can be very challenging. This is one of those situations where the right life skill set can help us to maintain a positive outlook.

How we choose to view these changing circumstances associated with empty nest syndrome will determine our quality of life during this transitional period and beyond. Our perception of reality is influenced more by our focus and beliefs than it is by external factors. The problem is, empty nest syndrome is viewed my many as a negative experience and most people don’t have the necessary life skills to change this perception.

Is it the end or a new beginning?

Every new challenge contains a new opportunity. When we became parents most of us put aside our personal pursuits and passions, at least to some degree. Now, with empty nest syndrome we have an opportunity to rediscover those things.

How many times over the years have you said: “I wish I had more time to…”? Well, with your new circumstances you do have more time. An empty nest can be the start of a whole new adventure if you have the skills to respond in a positive way.

Think you’re too young, think again!

Depending on when you began your career as a parent, and how many children you have, the nest can empty sooner than you imagined. If you became a parent at 20 and only had one child, you could find yourself in this situation by the time you are 38 years old.

In that case, your opportunities are almost endless. One thing’s for sure, the time goes by much faster than you think it will. There is a huge demographic of people whose children have already left home, or will be leaving soon. It’s important to acknowledge the fact that sooner or later you will see the other end of parenting and empty nest syndrome will set in. At that point your life will change.

Plan for adventure!

How you are affected by that changes brought on by empty nest syndrome will depend on whether you have planned ahead, or kept yourself in a state of denial. If you miss your kids when they go, that means you have done a good job as a parent. You have succeeded and that’s an amazing accomplishment.

What else would you like to succeed at? Life happens in phases. Each one is an opportunity for a new and exciting adventure. Look forward to the change. If you can raise kids in this crazy world – you can do anything!

Are you experiencing empty nest syndrome or about to?
Are your parents going through empty nest syndrome?
The lines are open!

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  1. Rocket Bunny July 23, 2009 Reply

    I am first!
    I am first here !!
    OK, first of all. We don’t have kids yet. We are looking forward to having them.
    My mother had a harder time with my brother going to live in Europe than me going off to college. I do understand the difference.
    She had a hard time with me traveling to Europe with a girlfriend. Didn’t stop us.
    Yeah, she drove my brother and I nuts for sometime. Mom would always get time zones mixed up. Even if it was only a couple of hours or 6 hours.
    She suffered this more than dad. Dad actually helped mom adjust . They started doing more traveling and playing golf more.
    Parenting is a life long job but there does a come a time where the parent becomes a friend also.
    Very good article.

    • Jonathan July 24, 2009 Reply

      Hi Bunny, sounds like you are close to your parents. I’m sure they are very proud of the person you’ve become. Now go call your mom!

  2. Zuzanna M July 23, 2009 Reply

    Thank you for the insightful article about parenting and the Empty Nest Syndrome. Your article is true and to the point.
    Life looks great in a situation when two people are still alive and in a good shape. That creates opportunity for a new adventure. However, life is not always like that. Often times we do not predict the unpredicted, like car accident that causes damage to the body and the opportunity for great plans, traveling or doing what I wished to do when having time on hands diminishes… However, life goes on so there are other options to consider. Having a creative nature one can engage in some activities like going to the park, gardening, visiting with friends, going for a lunch together, that type of things… Personally always wanted to go back to collage for more education, perhaps will do that one day…For now, I am still planning. For the first few years, it was hard to adjust to the emptiness when kids left home for good.

    Thank you,

    • Jonathan July 24, 2009 Reply

      Hi Zuzanna, you are so right about unforeseen events. There are so many variables that can affect our options. All we can do is try to make the very best out of whatever situation we find ourselves in. Even with tragedy we still have choices.

  3. Frank J July 23, 2009 Reply

    This is a touchy subject as I have a teen at home that doesn’t care about current events, education or responsibility. I could go on!

    Great post Jonathan!

    • Jonathan July 24, 2009 Reply

      Hey Frank, the feelings can certainly vary depending on the kid. We had 2 and they were polar opposites. One was so disruptive for so long that his departure was a huge relief. The other was so wonderful that it left a giant void. Sounds like you’re waiting for relief.

  4. Tom July 24, 2009 Reply


    I’ll bring a different perspective into this, as I’m a teenager. My parents are both on opposite ends — I’ll explain. My dad is the type that is always supportive in me being independent. I’m only 17 now, and am now going to be finishing my last year of high school. I always talk about how I can’t wait to leave for university (not because I hate my parents — actually, I love them). The reason I say I can’t wait to leave is because being independent does seem fun and interesting (even though it can obviously be difficult). Like I said, my dad always says it is better to move out once you become a young adult — simply because you need to begin getting used to the world, and adapting.

    My mom on the other hand, well, let’s just say she is completely on the other end of things. She still treats me the same as she did when I was 9. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing though — some moms are just like that. She always says I should stay here, live at home during university (which me and my dad both laugh at :P).

    As for what Frank said, I’m sorry to hear that. My sister sounds just like your teen (my sister is a teenager also). I think many teenagers go through that phase — don’t worry.

    Thought provoking post Jonathan! :)

    • Jonathan July 24, 2009 Reply

      Hey G, appreciate you joining the conversation. In general, when the kids leave it tends to be much harder on moms. For some, their nurturing role and nature is deeply linked to their personal identity. When they don’t have children to care for they can begin to feel like they don’t know who they are anymore.

      It’s perfectly natural for you to look forward to your own independence. This is a transitional time for your whole family, and with support and consideration from you and your father, you’re mom will get through it just fine.

  5. Stephen July 25, 2009 Reply

    Jonathan, when my daughter left home it was difficult for a bit, but my wife and I adjusted. After a few months, her being gone was normal. Human beings are adaptable and we can adjust. I agree with the whole theme of this article. It is a great opportunity for a new beginning. You have time and energy for other activity. Great job.

  6. Lindora Smith July 25, 2009 Reply

    Our daughters are now 29 and 27 with children of their own. I read Dr. James Dobson’s Empty Nest” in preparation of going through this transition. My girls’ and I had a strong relationship. When they left the nest it was easy. I was surprised when I did not experience the “emptiness” that was to have taken place. All I knew was to be a wife, mother, work, family and church. Now I am single and raising a granddaughter… that is yet to be seen. She will be ten this year so I have a few years to prepare. I am not rushing though.

  7. Zeenat July 26, 2009 Reply

    Hi Jonathan,
    I love this post about transitions and kids cause in some way it is directly pointing its finger at me to learn something..:)
    You see my little one is 2.5 yrs now and its time or her to start playschool. That’s the normal thing to do, but i cant seem to stop worrying about stupid trivial things. Like what if someone says something to her, what if some kid hits her, what if ..what if..what if. ..I am still avoiding taking the step to let her go even for the 2 hour play school. I know i am having separation anxiety, and i will eventually have to let go..at least for 2 hrs now, but its not easy. And i get the fact that it will be good for her and me…but it is still a huge transition. No one said parenting was gonna be easy. I hope i stringer to let her go..when she is old enough though. I do only now realize what my parents must’ve gone through every step on of the way while i grew up and finally when i left. I cant thank them enough. My mum would always say”when you have your own kids, you’ll know”. Trust me Now i Know!

  8. Eren Mckay July 26, 2009 Reply

    My kids haven’t left yet – they’re only 9, 10 and 11 years old. But just this age transition from them being little tots to now being preteens gives me the empty nest feeling.
    I know life is made of changes but just when we’re getting used to things going one way- whoosh! it changes again.
    Being a mommy is my most important role so I agree with you that it can be a bit harder on moms than on dads- generally speaking. Of course each case is specific.
    Thanks for sharing,
    Eren Mckay

  9. Arswino July 27, 2009 Reply

    Great contemplation, Jonathan, especially for me who start to become a parent. I have a 2 years old daughter.
    Thanks. :)

  10. Arohan August 2, 2010 Reply

    Too soon for us to start thinking about this topic as our kids are still very young but I have to say that the eastern cultures have a way of dealing with this with their focus on extended families. Children never fly off the nest, so to speak.

    From personal experience though, it has been really hard on my mom as her kids moved out all over the globe. However, as phone service becomes cheaper and with email, it does get easier. Maybe facebook and other services will help even more.

  11. Trecia July 16, 2011 Reply

    I’ve had 2 stepchildren in the house for the first 10 years of my marriage. I had no problem when they left after finishing school – in actual fact, it’s a relief to see them independant.

  12. MARY CRIPPS March 1, 2013 Reply

    i am a 39 y/o mother of two wife of 21 years .i am also a paramedic/firefighter.
    Septermber 2 my mother came to visit me because my son was on his way to boot camp. She wanted to see him before he left for the rest of his life. that day she was leaving and decided she wanted to take my 21 y/o daughter back to Tennessee with her to see if maybe getting a job there might be easier.( 21 and she had never had a job besides dog watching) so that day her my step dad and my daughter left after dinner .Monday the next day my son 19/yo left at 4 pm to go to the recruitment station to start bootcamp. Later that week my hubby and i are eating pizza and watching tv ..when i got a phone call they are rushing my mother to the hospital they think she had a mild heart attack remember i am a paramedic and have seen my share of heart attacks and the outcomes. dead and alive. two hours later my brother calls says Mary they have done cpr on her 4 times . i knew that she was not coming back at that point no one usually does .. i got a call from the hospital a few min later she left a message in her twangy Tennessee voice that it wasnt looking good and thati needed to hurry up and get to the hospital i called her back well she thought i was miles away ..i live in st louis . so in my mind i thought its time to go. we rushed out of the door and an hour into my ride. they called my husband and i knew what was happening . ………there was silence. ……..he took my hand ………and said….she’s gone Mary. i felt like my heart stopped beating . this just couldn’t be happening she was just here 4 days ago. there was nothing wrong with her. she is only 57 y/o .no way is this real. but it was. extremely real. So i lost my mom , my daughter to Tennessee and my son to the U.S.A. ARMY . and now i was all alone with my thoughts and my cats. now you have heard my story ….how do i deal with this without going totally insane. i need help please help.

    • Jonathan March 5, 2013 Reply

      Hi Mary, a chain of events like that certainly can pull the rug out from under a person. There’s no doubt about it. Your internal map of reality just got shredded, but you are still here and life goes on. Some things take time to adjust to and that is all part of the grieving process. At some point you will need to connect with who you are at your core, the part of you that doesn’t depend on your role as a daughter, mother, wife, or any other life defining activity. Then you can start building a new reality based on your true self. Nothing can take away your memories of all the wonderful experiences you’ve enjoyed with loved ones. Those are yours to keep forever; they are part of your personal treasure. Now it’s time to create new wonderful memories and have new experiences. You would probably benefit from doing the exercises in my book TRUE SELF. It will help you rebuild your life in an empowering way.

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