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After the Kids Have Left: Stages of Empty Nest Syndrome

After the Kids Have Left: Stages of Empty Nest Syndrome

After years of raising your children, they will eventually move out to their own place, maybe to attend college, to start their own family, or to simply live on their own. For families with multiple children, the separation might be a little more bearable, assuming that the older kids will be leaving one by one, while the younger siblings remain at their parent’s house. Every parent will have a different reaction towards this separation. Some might feel proud and relieved that their children are learning to stand on their own feet. Others might be a little skeptical and might feel lonely or worried if their children can make it on their own. Other parents might experience what they call the empty nest syndrome. What is this and what are the stages of empty nest syndrome?

Stages of Empty Nest Syndrome: What is Empty Nest Syndrome?

Empty nest syndrome occurs when parents experience a sense of loss, fear, loneliness, anxiety, or even grief when their children move out for the first time. Parents may experience different stages of empty nest syndrome when their last child leaves home to live somewhere else.

The symptoms of empty nest syndrome may include:

  • Depression
  • Stress and anxiety
  • Constantly worrying about your child’s welfare
  • Feelings of rejection
  • Loss of purpose

As a parent, you know the importance of encouraging and letting your children experience independence so they can stand on their own. While it has a positive outcome, parents still feel the loss and uncertainty of not having children in the house. You might feel that you are missing out on the daily lives of your children. For some moms who are around their kid’s lives 24/7, they might miss the constant companionship. You might worry about their safety and their ability to tend for themselves.

If you have only one child or your youngest is the only one left at your house, the feeling of emptiness may be stronger. If you strongly identify yourself as a parent and you have anticipated your child staying a little longer, you will surely have difficulty adjusting to an empty nest.

Stages of Empty Nest Syndrome: The Effects of Empty Nest Syndrome

Empty nest syndrome is not a clinical diagnosis. However, studies show that people who are experiencing an intense sense of loss might be at risk of:

  • Having depression or anxiety
  • Turning into an alcoholic
  • Identity crisis
  • Facing marital problems

Despite this, studies show that an empty nest can also have positive benefits such as:

  • Reducing family conflicts
  • Parents will have the opportunity to reconnect with each other and strengthen their marriage
  • Parents will have extra time to rekindle hobbies and interests that were not a priority when they had kids to tend to

Stages of Empty Nest Syndrome

There are different stages of empty nest syndrome that the parents will experience when their child moves out of the house. These include:


In the first few months of separation, parents may tell themselves that their children will never miss a holiday or a chance to visit in their free time at home like they used to. But the truth is, there will be factors that might affect how often they will visit you at home. Your home is no longer their home. However, they will hopefully visit from time to time and spend time with you when they can.

Grief and Loneliness

Once you realize that you will not spend as much time with your child as you used to, you may start feeling sorry for yourself. You might feel like you are getting really old and lose your sense of purpose. At this stage, you might experience the negative effects of empty nest syndrome. Recognizing the negative feelings you might be experiencing will help you overcome it before it gets worse.

Acceptance and Relief

Once you overcome your loneliness and accept the fact that separation might benefit you and your child, you will be ready to move on. You should be proud while you watch them live their lives on their own just like how you taught them. Your child is moving towards better opportunities and so are you.

Joy and Freedom

Once you realize that you are not solely responsible for your child’s life, you will free yourself from worrying too much (you still think of your child’s welfare, but now you trust him or her more). Empty nests open a whole lot of possibilities. You may have little freedoms and opportunities that you have neglected while the kids were growing up. You now have time for your husband or wife. With less people in the house, you may have more money than usual and save up for your retirement. With more time for yourself, you might discover new hobbies or new opportunities.

How will you cope with empty nest syndrome?

If you are experiencing stages of empty nest syndrome, you can:

  • Accept the timing. If your children move out early and other kids in the neighborhood do not, stop comparing them. People have their own timetables. What your child needs is your support and approval for him or her to succeed in life.
  • Keep in touch. Your child may not live with you anymore but it doesn’t mean you can’t speak with each other. Make time for phone calls, video calls, emails, or texts. Visiting his or her new place might help you stop worrying about his or her welfare.
  • Seek support. You don’t have to suffer alone. Share your thoughts with your partner. Relatives who might relate with your situation might give you some useful advice. Reconnect with old friends to make up for the years you had as a busy dad or a mom.
  • Stay positive. You have to see things from a positive point of view. Positive thinking may help you adapt to this transition. Separation may open opportunities for you and your child.

If you are a child who just moved out and you suspect your parents are experiencing stages of empty nest syndrome, help them cope by:

  • Making sure that you plan ahead and not take your parents by surprise.
  • Include them when you look for a new place and encourage them to visit to ease their worries.
  • Do not lose communication. Visit as often as you can.
  • Encourage them to try new hobbies to make use of their time
  • Always give them the assurance that you are being responsible and safe.

Key Takeaway

The initial reaction of a parent when it’s time for their child to move out may be “what do I do now?”. For years you have been a parent, and slowly lose yourself in the process. However, this is the perfect opportunity to reconnect with yourself and rediscover things that make you happy. If you feel like loneliness is consuming you, seek help from loved ones. Consult your doctor or other mental health provider to help you adjust to your new life. Remember, your child moved out of the house but not out of your life.

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Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.


Empty nest syndrome – Mayo Clinic, https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/empty-nest-syndrome/art-20047165#:~:text=Empty%20nest%20syndrome%20isn’t,letting%20go%20can%20be%20painful.

Accessed June 16, 2021

Empty nest syndrome – Better Health Channel, https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/HealthyLiving/empty-nest-syndrome

Accessed June 16, 2021

An empty nest can promote freedom, improve relationships, https://www.apa.org/monitor/apr03/pluses

Accessed June 17, 2021

The Dangers of Empty Nest Syndrome | University of Utah Health, https://healthcare.utah.edu/the-scope/shows.php?shows=0_etom70c6

Accessed June 17, 2021

How to Cope With Empty Nest Syndrome and Be Happy Again – Lifehack, https://www.lifehack.org/809725/empty-nest-syndrome

Accessed June 17, 2021

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Written by Lhay Ann Boctoy Updated Jul 01, 2021
Fact Checked by Hello Doctor Medical Panel