Empty Nest Syndrome
Parenting

Empty Nest Syndrome

empty-nest-syndrome

A significant family milestone occurs when a child transitions into adulthood, prompting parents to adjust to their absence. College students and children who live far from their parents often believe their parents struggle with their departure. In reality, parents who find it challenging to adapt to their children leaving may experience empty nest syndrome. Empty nest syndrome refers to the emotional difficulties parents may face when their children move out, often stemming from the significant satisfaction they previously derived from their roles as caregivers.

Parents may experience feelings of loneliness, sadness, and a sense of loss when their children depart from home, whether to live independently, begin college, or embark on their relationship. Empty nest syndrome, which many parents of adult children undergo, isn’t classified as a clinical disorder. Instead, it represents the mixed emotions typical during a transitional phase of life.  While the focus often lands on the negative feelings involved, this stage can also herald new opportunities and possibilities. 

Women and Empty Nest Syndrome 

This phenomenon tends to affect women more often, especially those who have primarily assumed the role of caregiver. Many mothers have dedicated decades to raising their children, viewing motherhood as their primary role even while working. It is most difficult for mothers who have been housewives because, unlike working mothers who have other channels to divert their thoughts, housewives spend every second nurturing their families. When the last child leaves home, mothers may feel that their most significant responsibility has ended. This can lead to feelings of worthlessness, confusion, and uncertainty about their future, similar to experiencing job loss. However, with time, most mothers adjust. Psychologists recommended that the transition from being a mom to reclaiming an independent identity typically takes between 18 months to 2 years. 

Symptoms of Empty Nest Syndrome: 

1. Sadness and Depression: 

Parents who experience empty nest syndrome often feel sadness and depression. They experience feelings of loss and distress, as this period evokes deep emotions while they try to adapt to the situation. As primary caregivers of their children, parents begin to worry about their safety, primary needs, and health after they have moved out. The loneliness and lack of purpose can lead to symptoms of depression. It is advisable to seek professional assistance if prolonged sadness, consistent crying, or if these emotions interfere with daily life and work.

2. Anxiety: 

Whether the child has moved away for college or into their place, it’s natural to worry about their well-being once they have left home. However, it’s unhealthy to constantly feel anxious about their day-to-day life. Checking in excessively or spending hours monitoring their social media isn’t productive for both parents and children. Calling repeatedly to remind them of tasks like flossing or nagging them about homework and overreacting to minor issues. Find a balance between staying connected, and respecting their privacy, and consider consulting a counsellor to cope with it. 

Read More: Anxiety: Symptoms, Causes and Intervention

3. Marital tension: 

During the journey of raising children, many couples prioritize their family over their relationship, often neglecting their marital bond. When children leave home, couples who have invested little in their marriage may find their relationship needs attention. Adjusting to a life that no longer revolves around children’s schedules and activities can be challenging. Rediscovering each other and finding new activities together may feel unfamiliar. Some couples may find they respond differently to becoming empty nesters,  which can lead to tension if one partner adjusts more easily or enjoys the changes more than the other.

4. Feeling of lack of control: 

For years, parents have had significant influence over-scheduling their children’s lives, but that changes when they move out. As they embrace independence, parents naturally become less aware of the details of their daily activities, like classes, work, dates, and social outings. The loss of control over these aspects can be frustrating. Not being fully informed about their regular day can leave parents somewhat excluded. While the intentions are good, the adult children may perceive excessive involvement as intrusive to their newfound independence. Excessive guidance and checking in and giving directives can hinder their ability to develop decision-making skills and manage life autonomously. 

5. Lack of purpose: 

Life as parents for their elementary school students to high school students is different than that of adults. In the past, they have lots on their plate, like making food for their school, dropping children at school and pick up, making snacks, keeping an eye on their academic progress, assisting in their projects, attending PTA and so on. There is lots of work to be done. But when their child moves out, the parent’s life seems emptier.  

This sentiment is common among parents whose children have recently moved out. Transitioning away from the daily responsibilities of parenting can be challenging,  especially if the identity was largely tied to being a parent while the child lived at home.  It’s natural to experience a sense of loss as acknowledge the closure of a significant chapter in life. It’s crucial to stay aware of the new opportunities emerging in both child’s and parent’s life. 

6. Feeling of neglected: 

When the child becomes adult, they want to do things on their own. They see it as a kind of autonomy. Children don’t want parents to be involved in the minor things they want to do, like calling repeatedly, deciding what they need to wear, and making schedules in their daily lives. So they don’t involve parents in the minor decisions in their life. This creates a sense of abandonment in parents and personal rejection. This perception is frequently associated with the responsibility of being a parent. As parents, it is important to understand that it is a part of life. Seeking help from friends, families, and counsellors to overcome the feeling of rejection. 

Read More: The Psychology Behind the Fear of Abandonment

Culture and Empty Nest Syndrome: 

Empty nest syndrome impact differs based on cultural influences individual expectations, and social norms. In individualistic cultures or Western cultures, reactions to the empty nest syndrome differ from collectivist cultures or Eastern cultures that prioritize family ties. For instance, in some cultures, children are expected to leave home for education and career pursuits, while in others, leaving home typically occurs after marriage. Western parents often perceive their children leaving home as a step towards independence, whereas non-Western parents may view it as a departure from familial values and potentially disrupting family cohesion.

Read More: 10 Self-Care Strategies for Parents

In Western culture, decision-making encourages individualism, young adults are expected to make their own decisions but in Eastern culture, is quite collectivistic, making decisions requires family discussion, and the approval of family members, authority figures, and elders. So, when young adults tend to decide there after they move out confuses their families. Regardless of cultural background, parents must learn to adapt to these changes. If this transition does not align with expectations, it can lead to negative outcomes for both parents and young adults.

Coping

  1. An empty nest allows us to embrace more time for ourselves like self-care, fostering self-exploration and allowing us for personal growth.  
  2. An empty nest enhances the relationship between children and parents, living separately and autonomy can improve harmony and positive communication with children. 
  3. Reducing power struggles, creating space for increased support, enjoyment and  friendship 
  4. With reduced parental responsibilities, there is less mental stress and emotional sexual intimacy within marriage.  
  5. With low parenting pressure, you can reach so many friends, and make connections.  Have the chance to prioritize self-fulfilment, enjoyment, and fun over responsibilities.
  6. It is advisable to seek professional assistance if the presence of prolonged sadness, and consistently crying particularly if these emotions affect emotions interfere with daily life and work. 

Empty nest syndrome is a common experience for parents when their children leave home, often causing feelings of loneliness and sadness. While challenging, this transition can also bring opportunities for personal growth and improved marital satisfaction. Women, especially those who were primary caregivers, may feel the impact more deeply. Despite initial difficulties, parents can find new purpose and enjoyment in this phase, with professional help and supportive relationships easing the adjustment.

References +
  • Bendre, V. (2024). Exploration of the Concept of An Empty Nest. 
  • International Journal of Indian Psychology, 12(1), 219-224. DIP:18.01.021.20241201,  DOI:10.25215/1201.021 
  • Calm Editorial Team. (2024, February 8). How to deal with empty nest syndrome? Try these 10  strategies — Calm Blog. Calm Blog. https://www.calm.com/blog/empty-nest-syndrome 
  • Department of Health & Human Services. Empty nest syndrome. Better Health Channel.  https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/empty-nest-syndrome 
  • Glik, R. (2023, September 5). Empty Nesting: The upsides, downsides and tips for a fresh  chapter mindset — Dr. Rachel Glik. Dr. Rachel Glik. https://www.drrachelglik.com/blog posts/2023/9/4/empty-nesting-the-upsides-downsides-and-tips-for-a-fresh-start-mindset 
  • Gordon, S. (2021, April 30). How to Re-Feather your Empty Nest. Verywell Family.  https://www.verywellfamily.com/7-strategies-for-overcoming-empty-nest-syndrome-5180842 
  • Lcsw, A. M. (2024, May 14). 5 Common feelings with empty nest syndrome. Parents.  https://www.parents.com/empty-nest-syndrome-symptoms-8622416 
  • Psychology today. Empty nest syndrome.  https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/conditions/empty-nest-syndrome
  • Toshi, N. (2024, May 7). Empty nest syndrome: what it means and how it can be managed?  PharmEasy Blog. https://pharmeasy.in/blog/empty-nest-syndrome-what-it-means-and-how-it can-be-managed/ 
  • WebMD Editorial Contributors. (2023, April 9). How to manage empty Nest Syndrome.  WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/parenting/how-to-manage-empty-nest-syndrome

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