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How to Recognize Empty Nest Syndrome When Your Kids Leave Home

As a parent, you spend years supporting your children to help them grow up and succeed. When the day finally comes for them to leave home, your heart will swell with pride. However, you also may feel loss and confusion. If so, you’re not alone. Like many parents before you, you may be experiencing empty nest syndrome.

empty nest held in hands

But how do you recognize empty nest syndrome in yourself or a partner? And what can you do to cope with empty nest syndrome? Read on to find out.

What Are the Signs of Empty Nest Syndrome?

When raising children, parents often set personal goals and interests on the back burner to focus on the family. The children become the centers of their lives. Once the children are independent, parents may feel directionless and lonely.

Other symptoms of empty nest syndrome can include:

  • Anxiety or panic
  • High levels of stress
  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities
  • Feeling a lack of purpose
  • Feelings of rejection
  • Extreme grief
  • Depression

Who Is Affected by Empty Nest Syndrome?

older couple sitting on bed, with woman looking depressed

Empty nest syndrome can affect any parent, whether biological or adoptive, single or married, male or female. However, a 2009 study in Canada found some groups are at greater risk of empty nest syndrome:

  • Mothers
  • Single parents
  • People in unhappy or dysfunctional marriages

Mothers are more likely to be affected than fathers because women often are expected to be the primary caretakers of children. Mothers also are more apt to have their identity wrapped up in being a parent.

In addition, the Canadian study found additional risk factors for all parents:

  • Feeling a loss of control over the children’s lives (particularly for fathers)
  • Lack of a social support network
  • Having one or few children
  • Being younger when the children were born
  • Worrying about the child’s safety and well-being in the outside world

What Are the Effects of Empty Nest Syndrome?

empty nest syndrome word cloud

The Mayo Clinic emphasizes that empty nest syndrome is not a clinical diagnosis. However, researchers and doctors acknowledge that empty nest syndrome can genuinely impact some parents and guardians. For some parents, the grief is as profound as that experienced after a death. This extreme pain can result in depression, an identity crisis, marital conflicts, and alcoholism, the Mayo Clinic says.

However, not all empty nest effects are bad. In fact, some can be positive. The American Psychological Association suggests an empty nest can promote autonomy, freedom, and improved relationships for parents and caregivers. Once the children are out of the house, empty nesters can rekindle interests and pursue personal goals they may have set aside.

Furthermore, without their children present, partners can reconnect by spending more intimate and quality time together. Having an empty nest may also prompt parents to reconnect with friends and peers.

older couple toasting each other with wine

How else can you cope with empty nest syndrome? How long does it last? Read on for those answers.

Related:

Ideas for Empty Nesters: How to Use Your Extra Space and Time

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    Comments

    1. Kathleen Morris says:

      Empty nest syndrome was hard for me. When you spend your whole life taking care of kids and then suddenly they’re gone, it isn’t easy. I decided to find new hobbies and reinvent myself. We I got my hands busy again, my empty nest didn’t seem so bad. I wrote an article about it in my blog here-

    2. Yvonne Ward says:

      Thank you the article, it was Interesting! However, what about divorced women that have no children, and are senior citizens?

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