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Empty Nest Syndrome: How to Cope When Your Kids Leave Home


Seeing your children grow up into young adults, and ultimately leave home to start families of their own, is one of the most bittersweet moments of parenthood. It’s what you’ve been preparing them for all these years, yet when it actually happens it can trigger intense emotions.

parental freedom

Contrary to popular belief, many parents enjoy the extra freedom and fewer responsibilities that come when kids leave home.

Empty Nest Syndrome refers to the feelings of depression, anxiety and grief that many parents and caregivers experience when their children go away to college, get married or move out on their own. While women are more likely to be affected than men, fathers too can experience mixed emotions when their kids leave home.

Researchers believe the transition may be particularly difficult for women because when their children leave home they are often juggling other major life changes, such as menopause or taking care of their elderly parents. Men, meanwhile, are less likely to view their children’s departure as a major life change, and as a result may find themselves unprepared emotionally.

Do Parents Really Get Depressed When Their Kids Leave Home?

It’s long been suggested that when the kids move out, parents, and mothers especially, feel their life is over. They may face an identity crisis, not knowing who they are now that their full-time parenting role is gone. And if you find that you’re showing signs of depression after your children leave home, you should consider getting professional help.

But not so fast. Several new studies suggest parents may not dread having an empty nest as much as we’ve been led to believe. In fact, research shows many actually enjoy it.

After surveying parents whose oldest child had just left home, Christine Proulx of the University of Missouri-Columbia, whose findings were published in the Journal of Family Issues, said "many parents relish the change and enjoy it while it's occurring."

They mentioned feeling strengthened bonds with their adult children as well as pride watching them mature. Of course, there’s also instantly more freedom and less responsibility, which tends to improve many people’s outlooks on life.

In fact, when researchers at the University of California, Berkeley tracked marital happiness among 72 women for 50 years, women consistently reported more marital happiness as empty nesters than when their children were still at home.

kids leaving home

Marital happiness tends to be higher among empty nesters.

“Parents were happy with their kids. It’s just that their marriages got better when they left home,” said Sara Melissa Gorchoff, a specialist in adult relationships at the University of California, Berkeley, in the New York Times.

And it wasn’t just that they were spending more time together. The couples actually spent about the same amount of time together whether their kids were home or not, but the empty nesters spent more quality time together.

Research by Helen DeVries at Wheaton College, Illinois also found that women look forward to beginning this next stage of their lives. Interestingly, men that DeVries followed were more likely to express regrets over lost opportunities for involvement in their children’s lives.

How to Make the Transition to an Empty Nest a Smooth One

You don’t have to wait until your kids leave home to start establishing an identity other than “Mom” or “Dad.” Experts recommend developing friendships, hobbies, or a career, and strengthening your relationship with your spouse and other family members as an ideal way to prepare for an empty nest. It’s also good advice for all of us, no matter what stage of life you’re in.

If you find yourself feeling blue when your kids do leave, remember that now you’re free to pursue whatever your heart may desire. So take advantage of your newfound free time and extra finances to do the things you enjoy but that had been put on the backburner while you raised your family.

Finally, realize that your relationship with your children is far from over. You will always be a mentor to your child, but now you can also enjoy exploring the new side to your relationship as adults. 

Recommended Reading 

How to Talk to a Teenager (and Know That They're Listening)

How to Most Effectively Pick Your Battles


Psychology Today: Empty Nest Syndrome

New York Times January 19, 2009

U.S. News & World Report March 5, 2008

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