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How to Get Through Empty Nest Syndrome

Updated on February 12, 2017
sholland10 profile image

Susan is the last of 8 children, has raised 2 children, and has spent 26 years teaching high school kids. She grew up with a strong mother.

Your kids are raised and they are on their way in the world. That is what you want, what you worked for, right? Good, productive members of society? But, you have the blues because you feel like you are no longer needed, the house feels empty, and your heart definitely feels there is something missing. Lonelieness and depression have set in. What may feel like wallowing in self-pity when your child leaves home is known as Empty Nest Syndrome, which is defined in Psychology Today as “feelings of depression, sadness, and/or grief by parents and caregivers after children” leave their homes. These sad feelings are natural, but you must find your way back to yourself so you can live a contented life.

Take Some Advice from a Real Pro

Margaret, an 86 year-old mother of eight used to say, “Pick yourself up and wipe yourself off.” How did she do it with eight kids? Eight kids that she raised and sent out into the world without much help from her truck-driving husband. She was their sole parent, and she felt their need for her for over the 45 year time span from the time her first child was born until her last one left her home. She had a wealth of experience, but each child held a place in her heart that could not be filled. Her attitude was to keep going and survive at all cost because she had to raise her other children. When the last child left, she became more involved in her church, with a local ladies’ club, and eventually became the caregiver for her parents. She realized she had to do things that made her feel needed and fulfilled.

Margaret’s story shows us that you should not curl up in the fetal ball position. Giving in to the loss of that piece of your life for an extended period of time is only going to make you even more unhappy and less outgoing. Your life didn’t always involve the kids. Your identity was not always being the mommy.

Don't Forget About Your Husband

Remember when you used to go to the movies, take drives, and go dancing? These activities are still around for your entertainment. And, you usually weren’t alone. Ya know that guy who is known as the father of your children is still around laying low because of your mood swings? The one you pledged to spend the rest of your life with who is now covered in grease from working on everything he can get his hands on in his workshop or garage because he is trying to avoid seeing you in your ratty, green robe and fuzzy slippers while you mope around the house with your voided eyes and uncombed hair. Well, maybe it isn’t all that bad, but your husband should not receive the residual effects of your empty nest feelings. He may be having some of his own feelings of longing for the kids, but, like most men, he doesn’t cry every time he sees a picture of your son with chocolate cake slathered all over his face at his first birthday party or when he can’t figure out how much hamburger you should use when you are only cooking (if you cook) for two.

Ed, a 43 year old father, wondered who that depressed woman was in his kitchen and what did she do with his wife. He missed his son, too, but he didn’t know how to deal with this crying woman. Leaving your husband out of the “grieving” process is not recommended, but letting the process linger may be hurting your relationship with him. He possibly would like to have an adult to talk to. You need to replace the extra time you used to spend with your children and try to find that new connection with your husband. Learn to hold hands again by taking walks together, set aside a date night, talk about each others’ day with real interest, think about all the times you longed to be alone but couldn’t because the kids were always around – here’s your chance. Take it.

Do Things with Your Friends

Remember you do have friends and some might be going through similar feelings. It is not like you are the first or the last person to go through feeling lost and unneeded without the kids underfoot. Karen, a 45 year old empty nester, said she had her time of “mourning” then she called her friend, Janice, whose daughter had just left for college. The two started going out for morning coffee, having lunch together, and occasionally going to a movie or dinner. She said she and Janice helped each other through these times of feeling lost because they understood each other. You need to forge healthy bonds with others or build on the ones you already have. There are a variety of things you could do with your girlfriends that your husband wouldn’t be interested in doing and that are much more enjoyable without children. You can shop till you drop and not worry about whether little junior is hiding in the clothes rack while you are searching frantically for him. Yeah, you know you do not miss those times.

Choose Your Own Activities

Yep, you are now a middle aged woman. Could this be part of your problem – your age? Well, honey, get over it and yourself. There is life after you turn 40, 50, 60… whatever age. You may have some wrinkles and extra skin that you didn’t have before, and you may even creak when you get out of bed or when you get up off the floor, but so what? Live every minute. Don’t be a waste of time and space for others to endure. Do something with yourself. Take a class on writing, Tudor history, or Kama Sutra. Oh my – wouldn’t that make your husband happy? Just explore things that are of old or new interests to you. Try to get into shape again or in even better shape than you are already in. Just because the kids are gone does not mean they will not need you again. If you allow your dreary long days of empty nesting to go too far, you are going to end up hurting yourself physically and mentally.

If being a mother has left you feeling “motherly,” you should definitely try some things that would be of interest to you and not to your children. Get out of the soccer mom and academic scholarship coach modes and get into things that make you feel alive and vibrant, that make you an individual, again. Karen and Janice talked their husbands into taking swing dancing lessons, and now they go every Thursday night to dance, which is fun and great exercise. Fifty-year-old Linda, a bank loan officer, hit the floor running when her last child left. She started taking night classes on becoming a travel agent then a real estate agent. She is constantly and happily busy working with new clients in both fields.

Okay, maybe being busy all the time is not your gig, and you just want to feel needed. Get a puppy or a kitten. Love it, play with it, train it, feed it, and feel productive. No, a pet cannot take the place of a child, but it can sure get the endorphins moving so you can get out of that empty nest funk that has been weighing you down. Take your pet on walks and to the park. They are wonderful companions that help get you out of the house. Plus, they are just down right adorable.

If you have the means, then travel. Go to places that you would not have gone with your kids. A cruise with your husband or girlfriends, a New York City getaway, a tour of Europe. Go for it, girlfriend. Soak it up, take pictures, and come back and share it with your kids, and say, “See, when you have raised your kids, you will be able to go see these places, too.” And, do not feel guilty. You have earned the right to do things without your children, be they big things like traveling the world or small things like eating ice cream at midnight. You are going to be all right.

Your Kids Are Going to Be There - Just As Adults

Eighty-six-year old Margaret gave another good piece of advice, “Be there for your kids when they want to talk or visit. They always come back, and you are always needed.” Mothers are a wealth of information on life. It is your turn to step into this new role. Are you up to it?


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    • sholland10 profile imageAUTHOR

      Susan Holland 

      6 years ago from Southwest Missouri

      Thanks, Sunnie! The hub I was referring to is "Empty Nesters Can Find Comfort in Dogs." My pups pictures are there. I am a little proud. LOL

      I have the two kids, but they are seven years apart. It seems that empty nest begins when their social life begins, so I know what you mean by it feeling like a slow process. My daughter moved out last week, and I miss her so much. I have had a bit of the hum-drums. The pups have really picked up on that. It is amazing what they sense.

      Thanks so much for dropping by! :-)

    • profile image

      Sunnie Day 

      6 years ago

      HI Sholland,

      Such a wonderful hub with great tips. So glad I stopped by and to follow you. I will look forward to reading more of your hubs. Empty nest hit me hard after four children but they did it slowly one by So the pain was not all at once. Having my pups sure does help in so many ways. Thank you again for sharing


    • sholland10 profile imageAUTHOR

      Susan Holland 

      7 years ago from Southwest Missouri

      Glen, what you just explained about your friend is me in a nutshell... Just replace the divorce with being a military wife who was always alone with the kids. Now my husband is retired, but he still works for the military and still travels. My mini-Dachshunds have been life savers.

      Being an empty nester is extremely overwhelming. I am sure your friend figured it was best to take her chances with the dog, and I hope it alleviated some of her loneliness. I am so glad you shared this story. I think it is a comment that will help others too.

      Thanks so much for dropping by. :-)

    • Glenn Stok profile image

      Glenn Stok 

      7 years ago from Long Island, NY

      I have a friend who is going through the empty nest feeling right now. She just got a dog, one of the solutions you had mentioned. Funny thing is that she was always afraid of dogs. So I asked her why she got a dog. And she told me it was because of the empty nest syndrome. She had two children. One moved out a year ago and the other one just moved out. She explained to me that she never lived alone. She went straight from living with her parents to living with her husband. After divorce, she still had her kids living with her. So she never experienced being alone. So now she needed to do something about it. And it was so overwhelming for her, that she gave into her fear of dogs and got a little dog for herself.

      That shows how overwhelming it can be and why it's so important for many people that you wrote this hub. You did a great job explaining everything.

    • sholland10 profile imageAUTHOR

      Susan Holland 

      7 years ago from Southwest Missouri

      LadyLyell, I am so glad you found my hub comforting. It is so hard to see our children leave, even though we have been preparing them since birth.

      When my son left for basic training, I had the same reaction you did. Food had no appeal, tears welled up every time I looked around the house and he was gone. It felt so good to see him again. Now he is a productive member of society with a wonderful wife, and I am so proud of him (both of them).

      My daughter is still in the house, but she is gone so much. I will definitely go through the same feelings when she leaves. Even though she is gone most of the time, I know she is coming home. She is ready to spread her wings and fly away, but Mom is not.

      Good luck with your move. Goodbyes are HORRIBLE, but with Facebook, Skype, and good cell phone service, it will hopefully make it more bearable.

      Thanks for dropping by, reading, and commenting! :-)

    • LadyLyell profile image


      7 years ago from George, South Africa

      This has been a comforting article to read and I can relate to the information having experienced empty nest syndrome. When my son moved overeas for two years many years ago, I became so ill with grief that I could not swallow food and ended up having to visit him. That visit did help no end.

      Now my husband and I have to make a move in two months time which will take us away from the family and I am busy thinking out how to deal with it especially the good byes.

      Thanks for the tips!

    • sholland10 profile imageAUTHOR

      Susan Holland 

      8 years ago from Southwest Missouri

      Thanks for the comment Prektjr! I understand what you are going through. My son went to basic training when he was 20, and I thought my heart walked out the door. He is 25 now, married, and a soldier. They live close enough for Sunday dinner, and I am so proud of him and his wife. It was hard that first week though. My mother and friends helped me a lot. My husband had no idea what to do with me. LOL

      I will tell you that I think you are on the right track. Being on HubPages is so theraputic. I wish I had had it 5 years ago. :-)

      Thanks for dropping by!!

      Take Care!!

    • prektjr.dc profile image

      Debbie Carey 

      8 years ago from Riverton, KS, USA

      This week my youngest son is boxing up his "stuff" and moving to a nearby college town. A quick 30 minute drive away from home the opposite direction from work meaning mom is in between the two. So I do have hope of seeing him, at least around dinner time! Seriously though, He is 20, finishing up his degree and looking at moving several states away in the next 18 months, so he is transitioning me! I am proud of my children's accomplishments and independence, but have been that Mom you describe. I currently lost my high level stressful job due to budget cuts and am feeling the changes pressing in, but I hope to follow your advice and fill my time with positive things. It is nice to be able to pull back some, but I have been concerned that the Empty Nest Syndrome will take over.

      Anyway, I want to thank you for your informative hub. You give very good examples and ideas for things to do. Thanks! I voted up, useful and interesting! Good luck to you!

    • sholland10 profile imageAUTHOR

      Susan Holland 

      8 years ago from Southwest Missouri

      Charlotte, live every moment and enjoy your single life, your future married life, and your future children. Time really does fly!

      Thanks for reading and commenting! Take Care! :-)

    • Charlotte B Plum profile image

      Charlotte B Plum 

      8 years ago

      I enjoyed reading this, although I am far from married myself. Thanks for sharing this advice.

    • sholland10 profile imageAUTHOR

      Susan Holland 

      8 years ago from Southwest Missouri

      Thanks, Powerpoe1. Margaret was a very wise woman. :-)

    • Powerpoe1 profile image


      8 years ago

      @ Sholland10, this hub was very insightful! "Pick yourself up & wipe yourself off," according to Margaret. We can learn a lot from our elders. Great title of your hub as well. I really like Get Jiggy After Your Child Leaves. Thanks for sharing!

    • sholland10 profile imageAUTHOR

      Susan Holland 

      8 years ago from Southwest Missouri

      I know what you mean. Plus my husband throws a wet blanket over my bucket list sometimes. I usually ask him how much he is paying for golf and beer in a week and that shuts him up. LOL He is lucky he is married to a very frugal person. :-)

    • your cybersister profile image

      your cybersister 

      8 years ago from Just relocated from Florida to the mountains of North Carolina

      My list is out and it is long. Some of it reads like a "bucket list", but most of it is just little ordinary things that there never seemed to be time or space for earlier. I can see EXPENSIVE coming into play though. Some things may be crossed off the list do to a lack of funds as time goes by.

    • sholland10 profile imageAUTHOR

      Susan Holland 

      8 years ago from Southwest Missouri

      Thanks for your comments, Cybersister! You sound like my mother-in-law who raised 3 boys. She loves them so much and is extremely proud of them. She was anxious to see them make it on their own and see them thrive.

      I must admit with my son (and oldest), I cried like a baby when he left home, but I, too, am so proud of him and his wife. They are making a wonderful life, and in a way I believe that reflects how they were raised. My daughter (and youngest) graduates in a couple of weeks. I am a teacher and I was pregnant with her during my first year of teaching. I have never gone to school without one of my children getting up and getting ready to go with me. It is pure selfishness on my part.

      The empty nest feeling is not so bad with my daughter. I think seeing my son's success with his life makes it easier. I will definitely have to look for more things to do, though. Senior years can be so busy and EXPENSIVE!!

      And, yes, I look forward to experiencing a lot of new things. Enjoy your son while he is home, but get your list out. :-)

    • your cybersister profile image

      your cybersister 

      8 years ago from Just relocated from Florida to the mountains of North Carolina

      After 31 years of building, then sharing, a nest with four testosterone filled boys (and frequently their friends)I am actually looking forward to having an empty nest. The youngest of the pack just turned eighteen and is graduating high school this year, so it won't be much longer now. I love them all more than words can say, I enjoyed watching them discover the world, I love their humor, their quick wit, their companionship, and I will cherish the memories we have made and share thus far. I look forward to seeing our family continue to grow - two of the "boys" have already added lovely young women(their wives) to the clan and,after all those boys, I already have my first grandaughter.

      Having said all of that, I will be happy NOT to be living in the same 1,600 ft space with them. They were also frequently, especially the last three: noisy, messy, crude, lazy, crazy, demanding,and stressful! I believe that I will enjoy their visits and phone calls and e-mails, as well as the freedom and space to become just "me" and not just "Mom" a lot of the time.

      As you detailed in your article, thankfully, there are still a lot of life experiences to be had after the nest is (finally) empty.


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