Parental Tips

Empty Nest Syndrome: What to Expect and How to Cope

Empty nest syndrome is something all parents will have to contend with at some point in their lives. If you’ve still got kids at home but are looking ahead to being an empty nester, or are struggling with sadness following the last of your kids moving out, we can help.

Below you’ll find all the information you need, including how to cope with empty nest syndrome and find the positives in the new situation.


What is Empty Nest Syndrome—and Is It Normal?

empty nest


Although not a medical condition, empty nest syndrome refers to the sadness, distress, and other complex emotions that parents may experience when their children leave home. While parents are proud and happy that their kids are moving on to the next stage in their lives—whether this is heading off to college or moving in with a partner—it can bring feelings of grief and loneliness.

Empty nest syndrome happens for a variety of reasons. Since our child was born—and often even before this point—our identity has been inherently tied to our role as a parent. Our days are largely governed by the hustle and bustle of family life, caring for our kids, and running the household. Once our kids have left home, this can create a sense of dislocation and loss in terms of this identity, which can be emotionally difficult to cope with.

It’s also natural for parents to worry that the new physical distance between ourselves and our fledged offspring may create an emotional distance that’ll increase over time, and this can feed into empty nest syndrome. To compound all this, we could be worried about our children and their choices, and concerned as to their wellbeing.

It’s important to remember that empty nest syndrome is a normal phenomenon experienced by many parents and, however challenging things may feel, it will pass in time.

What Age Group Is Empty Nest Syndrome Associated with?

empty nest syndrome


Empty nest syndrome may strike when all of a person’s children have left home, effectively leaving an empty nest. Given this, it tends to affect moms (and often dads) between the ages of around forty to sixty.

How Long Does Empty Nest Syndrome Last?

It’s a relief to know that in most cases, the syndrome lasts for around two-three months. However, in some cases, empty nest syndrome can last for years, particularly where there are other issues at play, such as health or financial issues, or existing depression is present.

3 Stages of Empty Nest Syndrome

Typically, there are three main stages that an empty nester will experience:

  1. The first, which is usually triggered when the child first leaves home, may be experienced as a sense of grief, and even loss.
  2. After some months have passed, things shift, and empty nest parents may begin to feel a sense of relief as they enjoy their new freedom.
  3. Finally, as the empty nesters settle into their new way of life, they often feel joy in their ability to pursue new interests or pick up long-discarded hobbies.

Symptoms and Signs of Empty Nest Syndrome

empty nest depression


While not everyone experiences the stages of empty nest syndrome in the same fashion, symptoms typically manifest in several ways:

  1. Restlessness is one of the key symptoms of the syndrome. You may find it more difficult to focus, with your thoughts continually returning to your fledglings, and worrying about how they’re getting on in their new environment. You may be stressed out with constant fears regarding their safety and well-being.
  2. Loneliness is a common sign of empty nest syndrome. Even if you have a partner and a life full of friends and other family members, when your child leaves home you may find yourself coping with feelings of being alone.
  3. Less energy and decreased motivation is also a symptom often experienced by empty nesters. This sense of languishing is often accompanied by a feeling that something is “off” even if you don’t feel bad. You may be irritable and frustrated, and more prone to snapping at those around you.
  4. Some people even find that empty nest syndrome can manifest in physical symptoms, such as an increase in headaches, stomach issues, or sleep problems. However, it’s important to seek medical advice should you experience any of these things severely, or they don’t resolve within a reasonable amount of time.

Empty nest syndrome may be particularly difficult in cases where a child leaves home suddenly or unexpectedly, or where the parent only has a single child. Luckily, the syndrome usually doesn’t last long, so you’ll soon be feeling better, and back to your old self, however difficult things feel right now.

Other Life Changes that May Make it Harder to Deal with Empty Nest Syndrome

empty nester


Given the average age at which children tend to move out of the family home, there’s a high chance that empty nest syndrome could coincide with other major life events that could make the symptoms more acute.

For example, if you are going through menopause (or perimenopause), the subsequent hormonal changes can add to feelings of depression and irritability and the occurrence of mood swings. Retirement may also happen around the time that empty nest syndrome is being experienced which, again, fuels the sensation that our life and identity are changing permanently.

If we lose our own parents around the time that our child moves out, this can make empty nest syndrome particularly hard to deal with. Feelings of loss and grief may be exacerbated, and it’s important to ensure we have the support we need around us at this time.

How to Deal with Empty Nest Syndrome

stages of empty nest syndrome

Supagrit Ninkaesorn/

If you’re an empty nester—or are looking ahead to when you will be—there are lots of steps you can take to help handle the emotional turmoil and get back on track. Most important, though, is understanding that your role as a parent hasn’t ended—just changed.

Taking the Time to Feel Sadness

While it may be tempting to push feelings of sadness down, it’s important to allow yourself to experience these emptiest feelings to move on. Remember that you will adjust to this reality as you grapple with a sense of grief, and know that you won’t feel like this indefinitely.

Focus on Your Child’s Best Interests

However tough this time is, try to stay focused on the fact that moving out is a positive step for your child and an important part of their journey in adult life. While it’s fine to tell your child that you miss them, try to give them as much encouragement and praise as possible, and resist any temptation to tell them how sad you’re feeling.

Be Kind to Yourself

Self-compassion is more important than ever if you’re experiencing the symptoms of empty nest syndrome. Try not to be hard on yourself for feeling as you do, and take extra care to ensure you’re getting enough sleep, eating properly, and staying active. Prioritise delicious, nutritious food, and think about creating a peaceful bedtime routine to help you drift off at night if you’re suffering from disturbed sleep.

Reconnect with Your Partner

what is empty nest syndrome

Ground Picture/

As busy parents, it’s easy for our relationship to get put on the back burner. However, reconnecting with your partner can help alleviate empty nest syndrome and be great for general happiness and well-being. Make the most of the new opportunities to enjoy activities, walks, or meals out with your partner—and don’t forget to arrange some regular date nights, too!

Keep Busy with Hobbies and Interests

Now your nesting responsibility is over, you have the time to take up either a new or discarded interest or hobby. It’s a great time to start on a project you’ve long planned, take that course you’ve always wanted to, or reconnect with a once-loved hobby, whether this is growing your vegetables or playing the piano.

Make Time for Friends

Getting out of the house for a change of scene to meet friends or hosting a dinner party are good ways to help deal with the sadness caused by empty nest syndrome. Getting plenty of events booked into your diary will give you lots of things to look forward to, and promote a positive outlook.

Have Fun Planning a Trip

empty nester syndrome


There are some perks to becoming an empty nester—for example, you have much more freedom to travel than ever before. So why not have fun planning a trip, whether a fun weekend away with friends or a romantic extended vacation with your partner? Making the most of your new-found freedom is one of the best tips to help adjust to becoming an empty nester.

Consider Getting a Pet

While this may not be for everyone, a pet can help conquer feelings of loneliness. Plus, having something to care for and look after can be particularly beneficial for those who are very conscious of an empty nest. There is a lot of research that points to the link between connecting with a pet and increased happiness and well-being, so it could be worth considering if you’re experiencing empty nest sadness.

Consider Joining a Support Group

If you’re struggling with the sadness of empty nest syndrome, you may wish to consider joining a support group specifically for those who are experiencing this. In such a group, you’ll be able to connect with others who can relate to exactly what you’re going through, share advice, and maybe even make some new friends.

As well as being a safe place to express your feelings, a support group can help ease the feelings of isolation and loneliness that often come with empty nest syndrome.

When to Seek Help

severe empty nest syndrome


While it’s important to understand that empty nest syndrome is normal, it’s also crucial to recognize when symptoms become severe and clinical treatment should be sought. Although it may feel stressful, it’s vital to seek support and a diagnosis should you find your symptoms are extreme, or extend beyond a couple of months.

If you experience ongoing distress or sadness that’s impacting your daily life and activities, it’s worth seeking help from a medical professional or therapist. Other signs to look out for that suggest it’s time to seek help include:

  • Feeling unable to connect with loved ones as you usually would
  • Finding it difficult to enjoy the activities you used to
  • Having trouble motivating yourself to do standard self-care tasks, like showering or eating meals
  • Feeling overwhelmed by feelings of longing, regret, or resentment when thinking about your child
  • Being in increasing conflict with your partner
  • Feeling despair and that life no longer has meaning

The Challenges of Empty Nest Syndrome—and Finding Joy and Meaning in Your New Life

how long does empty nest syndrome last

simona pilolla 2/

While the causes of empty nest syndrome are clear, finding ways to cope with the complex emotions it can throw up is more challenging. While sadness, grief, and loneliness are difficult, allowing yourself the time and space to experience them is often the first stage in moving on. When you’re ready, use the tips above to help make the most of the new positives and freedoms in your life, and have fun seeing friends, rekindling romance with your partner, and enjoying much-loved (or brand new) hobbies.

If you’ve been through empty nest syndrome and have come out of the other side, we’d love to hear your tips and advice for navigating this time—please do drop us a line in the comments below.


What are the 3 characteristics of empty nesters?

The three main stages that empty nesters experience are grief, followed by a refreshing sense of relief. Finally, the empty nester is likely to feel joy, as they settle into the freedoms of their new life.

How can I help my wife with empty nest syndrome?

Spouses searching for ways to help their wives cope with empty nest syndrome could try encouraging them to take up interests and hobbies, as well as suggesting activities to undertake together, such as getting out for walks, heading to a favorite eatery for lunch, or taking a city break. It’s also important to be vigilant should symptoms become extreme or last a significant length of time, both of which indicate that support from a medical professional should be sought.

The picture on the front page: fizkes/

Получите чек-лист подготовки к школе на свою почту
Discuss the article
Read more
Download for free on iOS or Android
Mobile application Findmykids
See your child's movements on the map, listen to what is happening around the phone when you are not near. Send a loud signal if the child doesn't hear a call from you
Download for free on iOS or Android
Download app