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The Empty Nest - When Your Youngest or Only Child Moves Out

Updated on February 23, 2016
Lisa HW profile image

"Lisa" , a "social sciences enthusiast" and Mom of three grown kids, writes from personal experience/exposure and/or past research

Empty Nest or Free as a Bird?

As Your Nest Becomes Empty

Your youngest child is leaving home. Maybe he's headed off to live on campus and pursue those dreams you've always hoped he'd have. Instead he may be happily moving to his own apartment. You've known this day was coming for some time, and chances are you're as excited for your child as he is. As has been the case so often before in your role as a parent, you may find you have mixed emotions that come from what you want for your child and what is nice and comfortable for you.

Since most parents want their child to be happy, and since most understand that happiness comes from being independent, keeping in mind that your son or daughter is excited and happy to be starting a new phase of life is usually what makes this bittersweet time for parents a little less sad. With all the hustle and bustle of having someone move out there's often not much time for thinking about anything but the practicalities. Then the last box is carried to the car. You say your cheerful (or even tearful) "good-byes", and make plans to talk on the phone as soon as your child is settled in. Once the car goes off down the street, and you notice the silence of the house, if you don't cry you certainly may feel as if you're going to. Maybe you vacuum up whatever was left behind after the move. Maybe you think about when your son or daughter will be back to visit. You may remind yourself that you'll be in touch over the computer. One way or another the rest of the day passes, and you may believe that once this day of "good-byes" is over you'll have gotten through the worst of it.

The Melancholy You May Not Have Expected

What you may discover is that it is in the first days and weeks after a child leaves home when seemingly constant reminders of his absence mean that "the worst of it" wasn't necessarily the day he moved. You may be particularly aware of the fact that there's no longer music coming from his bedroom. His friends are no longer showing up in the kitchen or family room. At the grocery store you may find yourself reaching for his favorite food, only to realize you don't need to buy it now. You may be suddenly caught off guard when there's no need to leave the porch light on longer than you otherwise would. When the bathroom remains oddly as clean as you left it you may be both pleased and a little lonely. With each small thing that reminds you how things are different now, yet another small sense of wistfulness seems to be added to all the others. There's no doubt about it, there are things to get used to.

Some of those things, however, can be good things. They may be small things with which you no longer need to concern yourself, or they may be bigger things related to your own time and personal growth. While only time will take care of some of those day-to-day adjustments you may not have anticipated, being open to positive aspects of your new lifestyle can make the difference between feeling like your nest is empty and enjoying your new freedom.

Empty Nest or Free as a Bird - You Decide

As children grow, most parents learn that being a parent, and remaining close to one's children, has little to do with how much children need their parents. It's the day-to-day living that is most changed. How you view some of those smaller changes may be a first step in having a positive attitude about this new phase of life for you and your child.

Not needing to buy that special food item at the grocery store means spending less money on groceries. It also means having fewer groceries to carry in from the car. Not having music blaring out of that end bedroom can mean turning up the volume on your own music. Realizing there are fewer people or nobody for whom you need to be home to cook also means you can stay out as long as you like. That's a freedom you may not have had for a very long time. Maybe you'd like to use that kitchen or family room to entertain your friends for a change. A house that stays clean, less trash on trash day, fewer dishes, fewer uses of the washing machine - these are all things anyone could easily get used to. In view of the fact that your child seems happy in his new life, you may discover yours is not so bad after all.

Growing Isn't Just for Kids

In the song, "It's My Turn", recorded by Diana Ross and with lyrics by Michael Masser/C. B. Sager, there is the line, "For years I've seen my life through someone else's eyes." So often this is how parents, particularly mothers perhaps, see their lives. When that youngest child leaves the nest it really should be a time when you start seeing your own life through your eyes. That doesn't mean no longer seeing your child or children as the precious additions to your life they've always been. It means seeing the "you" that you most likely had to overlook for quite some time.

When your nest first becomes empty it may take a little while to get used to the quiet, and you may shed a few more tears than you’d thought you would. They dry pretty quickly, though, and those words, “It’s my turn,” can actually be pretty alluring.


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    • Lisa HW profile imageAUTHOR

      Lisa HW 

      9 years ago from Massachusetts

      websclubs, thanks for sharing thoughts here. All good things for people to keep in mind (AND, even if they're not able to quite get a positive "grip" on a new empty-nest phase, that can always keep in mind that these days a good number of "flying baby birds" return to the nest for one reason or another! LOL (Oh, I'm not saying people should hope their grown kids run into problems build their own nests... It's just that the re-filled and/or returned-to nest is a pretty common thing these days. (Hope people know I'm trying to be a little funny here, of course.)

    • websclubs profile image


      9 years ago

      Hi Lisa,

      mixed emotions comfort zone youngest child is leaving home. teen years filled with disappointments? time for a midlife career change? feeling empty feel blues second time around. learning time to think with a different mindset. its time to make adjustments and spend more time with friends and family--having a positive attitude about this new phase of life grow with it, find new discoveries in change. all those idea you have been putting on hold, now it time to start doing some of them.

      Nice hub Thanks.

    • miss_jkim profile image


      9 years ago

      Nice article filled with good advice. Thanks for your insight. I am presently enjoying my "empty nest" very much.

    • Lisa HW profile imageAUTHOR

      Lisa HW 

      9 years ago from Massachusetts

      DD, sorry to know you've been going through such a difficult thing (especially with your mother). I had known of one empty nester forum, but I just went to check it out and saw it had been changed to another site for empty nesters. So, I went to the place it moved to, but it looks to me like it's more about being elderly and having health problems than aimed at people actually living with "empty nester issues". So, after all that, I don't know of any first-hand. I did do a Google search and came up with a bunch of stuff, so I imagine you may find something just be doing some searches.

      I don't know if my own Hub about living alone will at all be helpful, but I figured I may as well post a link:

      Also, I started a blog for people of "recently grown children" age. It has a bunch of miscellaneous stuff on it; and, again, I'm not sure it would be of any use to you (but maybe it would give you some ideas for things to write about yourself):

      You could start by having a niche on HubPages and writing a bunch of material on empty nest issues. You could also add a separate blog of your own, and post that on your profile. From there, I imagine things would grow as started to meet other Hubbers. There are also social sites where you sign up under the same name you use on HubPages (if you were to start a blog aim for a name that people interested in your niche will search for, rather than your own name). Social sites have groups, so you can be in touch with other people interested in the same issues. I think if you started with those three basic things you'd eventually get more ideas about what to do. If you start a blog you can also do something like get into web ring, where your niche/subject is listed and which points you and your readers to other blogs on that subject.

      I don't do much with my blog; but, if nothing else, I have to links to writing sites where I write (which you could click on for a few more writing-site ideas or ideas about ways to link whatever you write/read. There are ways to have feeds from one site to another, and people like having their blogs or writing linked from your site. They may want to link to yours from theirs.

      Hope some of this gives you some starter ideas. There's a lot of good information for new HubPages writers (in Hubs and on the forums). Members of HubPages can go to the forums and start discussions on anything, so that would be one place you could start too.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      My daughter and I have been best friends for many years. she has gotten her masters degree and is moving out at age 26. I am single and we live in rural america. I am getting the heck out! To top it off, my parents' house is next door with a million memories. My dad is gone (1999) and I just put my mom in an alzheimer;s unit. My sister has her own life and lives 20 minutes away, but may as well live in bora bora. So, I had therapy today, because I know just how sad I am getting, and I don't want to end up going crazy. I want to find a new life for myself, and learn to enjoy my own company. Are there any empty nester blogs or boards on line? I am also going to try to find or start a live one. any thoughts?

    • Lisa HW profile imageAUTHOR

      Lisa HW 

      10 years ago from Massachusetts

      My own world, thank you for the kind words. I've never really thought of my writing as an attempt to guide ayone. Mostly I just like to share the smaller, pleasant, discoveries that turn out to show us how much our love for our children so often becomes our anchor and/or our guiding light in ways that help us feel as if adjusting to the inevitable challenges and changes can come as naturally as that love for our children, itself.

    • myownworld profile image


      10 years ago from uk

      As always, such a wonderful hub....your words gently guiding and comforting us. My children are too young at the moment, but i always wonder what it would be like when they'll move out. Anyway, loved this, esp. the poem at the end. Thank you for sharing yet another 'gem' !

    • beccas90 profile image


      10 years ago from New York

      I'm aways off from this event but even helping my oldest look at colleges gave me those "where did the years go?" feeling knowing he was leaving. I'm not sure how I'll react to doing the same with the youngest.

      I enjoyed reading this hub and as I have your others Lisa.

      Thank you


    • akirchner profile image

      Audrey Kirchner 

      10 years ago from Washington

      I think it all just goes by too fast - but then it brings to mind that old saying about when they are 2 and the problems seem SO huge and then they are 30 and the ones you had at 2 didn't seem so big at all! It is all about change and your hub beautifully describes that. Bob actually had a harder time than I did because I just wanted some FREEDOM - could say what I wanted and do what I wanted and we could have some fun. But eventually it all came around and we thoroughly enjoy our 'together time' now since we had our kids so soon after we married 34 billion years ago! It's all good - and you are right -is all about changing and adapting - and in our case - we just got malamutes! What the heck - that is like having 15 kids all at once! ha ha You just get a life and you survive - and you are still always a parent. Super job.....Audrey K

    • Lisa HW profile imageAUTHOR

      Lisa HW 

      10 years ago from Massachusetts

      Jerilee, (lol) it did occur to me to include some remark about how often they come back, but it would have taken too many more words to go through that whole thing about not wanting them to have difficulty/fail and yet being glad to have them around and yet not wanting them unhappy, etc. etc.

    • Jerilee Wei profile image

      Jerilee Wei 

      10 years ago from United States

      Don't worry, in todays economy they come back, then you can replace all your old worries with new ones. Just kidding! Once a parent always a parent comes to mind in reading this. Have one adult child at home (with her child) and one 18,000 miles away -- can't say as either of my empty nest and not-so-empty nests would be my ideal.

    • andromida profile image

      syras mamun 

      10 years ago

      Excellent hub Lisa.Your hub giving me a vicarious feeling of parents(since I am not a parent yet) -how parents really react when children leave home-I think this feeling is pretty much the same for all parents.

    • Lisa HW profile imageAUTHOR

      Lisa HW 

      10 years ago from Massachusetts

      Laura, thank you. I've had both - and close is better, at least from a parent's point-of-view. :)

    • Laura du Toit profile image

      Laura du Toit 

      10 years ago from South Africa

      Great Hub Lisa

      My children are all out of the house and married but luckily live in the same town. I have the best of both worlds - I have my house and time to myself when I so choose or I can drop in at their house and be the guest for a change. We are a very close family and very rarely will a weekend go by that I do not get a visit from all three my children, but I can imagine that if your children move far away it must be difficult to adjust to the empty nest.

    • Lisa HW profile imageAUTHOR

      Lisa HW 

      10 years ago from Massachusetts

      dusanotes, thank you. I have to say it's not "big, wild, fun" - but it's not so horrible either, especially when we know they're happy. :)

    • dusanotes profile image


      10 years ago from Windermere, FL

      This is a great Hub. It is almost time for our nest to be emptied. I like what you said about how you can stay out as long as you like; that that's a freedom you may not have had for a very long time. Use of the kitchen or family room to entertain your friends for a change. A house that stays clean, less trash on trash day, fewer dishes. It will be fun. Thanks for the upbeat Hub. Don White


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