Advice for coping with empty nest syndrome

Advice for coping with empty nest syndrome

Save Story
Leer en español

Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes

This archived news story is available only for your personal, non-commercial use. Information in the story may be outdated or superseded by additional information. Reading or replaying the story in its archived form does not constitute a republication of the story.

SALT LAKE CITY — Now that the school year is well under way, some parents may be experiencing what officially has been labeled “empty nest syndrome,” which is the sadness or emptiness felt when children leave home for the first time. The best advice to remember, according to a professional therapist in Maryland, is, “Don’t sit down and die! Life is too precious for that.”

According to Sherry Clarke, a licensed marriage and family therapist and life coach in Germantown, Md., empty nest syndrome is very real and can make parents question their roles in life after their children leave home. One of the most important coping skills is to “be aware of where you are and accept it.”

“Remember that just because you’re not doing their laundry or cooking their meals, you are still a parent. You are still there for them," Clarke said. "While this is a major adjustment in life, it also is an opportunity to sort through your life and become a more balanced person ... It’s okay to have healthy fears about new things.”

What is... Empty Nest Syndrome?
Empty Nest Syndrome refers to feelings of depression, sadness, and/or grief experienced by parents and caregivers after children come of age and leave their childhood homes. This may occur when children go to college or get married.

Women are more likely than men to be affected; often, when the nest is emptying, mothers are going through other significant life events as well, such as menopause or caring for elderly parents. Yet this doesn't mean that men are completely immune to Empty Nest Syndrome. Men can experience similar feelings of loss regarding the departure of their children. -Psychology Today

“You pride yourself in being organized, prepared, pulled together, and then that sudden, unexpected rush of feelings falls out and surprises you," said Natalie Caine, founder of Empty Nest Support Services, an organization that supports parents going through the often confusing empty nest stage of life. "Who is that person losing it? It is you and so many other parents who hug their children goodbye. It isn't just the goodbye, see you soon, love you, it is a new stage of your life that you knew was out there somewhere, but not today."

Recognizing that each person is different, Caine says, people might need different things during this time. Some people need to get busy. Some need to be still. Some will need to gather together, and some will want to get out of town.

Clarke urges parents to look forward to the new things they can do in this new phase of life, as well as looking forward to getting together with their kids as often as possible.

Clarke shares her best advice for empty nesters having difficulty adjusting to this new phase:

  1. Recognize there may be a grieving process, and that is normal. Find joy in your journey.
  2. Think of your life as a blank slate now. What have you wanted to do that you have postponed?
  3. Be aware of the signs of depression. If you are sleeping too little or too much, eating too little or too much, or crying excessively, seek professional help.
  4. Feel your feelings. Let yourself experience the emotion of this new phase. It is a change and a transition, and you will adjust. Take time to assess how being an empty nester affects you.
  5. Don’t make impulsive changes without processing what you are feeling.
  6. Rebuild old friendships.

How have you coped with empty nest syndrome? Tell us on our comment boards.

  1. Remember some of the things you like to do and do them.
  2. Plan and organize your own life like you planned and organized your kids’ lives.
  3. Make a wish list.
  4. Recognize your needs and plan on how you can fill them.
  5. Resurrect and strengthen your marriage. Take classes together. Renew your vows with your spouse.
  6. Assess who you are. Remember the skills you used as a mother. You were probably the CEO or CFO of your family. Put those skills to work in your own life.
  7. Think of your future as an adventure. Think of it as exciting rather than depressing.
  8. Take stock of your life. Remember that you are still a parent, still loved and needed.
  9. Relish time alone, broaden your horizons and find something meaningful to do.
  10. Practice good self-care, like getting a massage, exercising and taking optimal care of yourself. One exercise Clarke recommends is making a list of everything you would like to do if money, time and space were irrelevant.

“It gets your juices flowing. It helps you recognize your needs and can lead you to ways to fill those needs," she says. "When your children all leave home, you lose a big chunk of your life. You are allowed to feel sad, but see it as a step forward and an opportunity to take stock of your life.”

“You will discover what you need and when you are stuck, sad, confused, you will find support. It takes practice to ask for help, to nurture you, and mostly to be okay with not knowing what to do or where to head next," Caine says. "I know this because I have lived it over and over throughout my life. I don't like the unknown. I don't like saying goodbye to people I adore. Who does?”

Laurie Snow Turner is a writer in the Washington, D.C., area. Check out her blog at

Related links

Related stories

Most recent Utah stories

Related topics

Laurie Snow Turner


    Get informative articles and interesting stories delivered to your inbox weekly. Subscribe to the Trending 5.
    By subscribing, you acknowledge and agree to's Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

    KSL Weather Forecast