How to tackle empty nest syndrome

Adult children leaving home is a new chapter for them – and for you. Here’s how to handle it.

What is empty nest syndrome? 

Empty nest syndrome is the popular name for feelings of grief or loneliness that some parents experience after their child moves away. This could be when the child moves out, or lives away from home for university.

It isn’t a formal diagnosis. However, the feelings it describes are very real for those struggling with it. Parents want to encourage their children to flourish as independent adults. Many feel excited for their children taking this next step, but the process can still be bittersweet.

What are the signs of empty nest syndrome? 

Some of the common signs of empty nest syndrome are:

  • A loss of purpose

  • Boredom

  • Emotional distress

  • Marital stress

  • Over-worry or anxiety for your children

How can I overcome empty nest syndrome?

If empty nest syndrome is impacting you on a day to day basis, you should take action.

1. Take care of yourself

Many people describe the empty nest phase as a bereavement. And if that’s how you feel, let yourself grieve. But once they’ve gone, put a limit on your grieving – a few weeks max – then give yourself something exciting to focus on. A holiday, a new fitness regime, a course, a dog to take on long walks. The most important thing is to keep yourself busy and not dwell on bleak feelings.

2. Healthy habits

Just because you no longer have to be the veg police with your reluctant kids, it doesn’t mean you can forget about healthy eating. Stock up on all the healthy foods that you enjoy, and batch cook some hearty soups and stews, so you don’t have to have that ‘What are we going to eat tonight?’ panic. And don’t forget the importance of regular, moderate exercise to keep your physical and mental wellbeing in balance.

3. Be Sociable

An empty nest can feel awfully quiet, so if you feel isolated it’s important to develop a social life. Schedule time with friends, or find out about local groups by signing up to Meetup.com, where you can dip your toe into whatever takes your fancy, from coffee mornings to theatre groups to rambling clubs. Or find out about neighbourhood initiatives, from volunteering at the library to turning wasteland into green space, via nextdoor.co.uk and the newsy local blogs in your area.

4. Keep in touch

Advances in technology might make keeping in touch with your children easier than ever before. However, remember it could still take effort to get into a new routine. Have an open and honest conversation about availability and how much you would like to be in contact. A young person reveling in their newfound independence might want a more hands-off approach. Whereas someone feeling homesick might need extra support. Plan when would be the best time for a long chat based on both of your schedules and stick to it. Day to day, text and other messaging apps are a good way to keep abreast of each other’s news. If you haven’t set one up already, a family group chat can be a fun way to talk together.

5. Make a plan

Many parents use their new-found freedom as a springboard for doing something different with their lives. Says Marina Gask, editor of audreyonline.co.uk, a platform for women who want to self-reinvent in middle age: “An empty nest gives you the opportunity to explore your unfulfilled dreams and plans. Do you fancy retraining? Turning a creative passion into a business? Or a daring new hobby? Allow yourself to dabble in areas of interest to see what might turn into a whole new direction for you.”

6. Make your own rules

All those years of family meals and school runs and routine – maybe you loved all that, but aren’t you a little bit fed up of being tied to the kitchen? If you want to eat at a different time, spend all day reading, take up a new hobby, have a relaxing weekend, or travel to new places – well, why not? Marina Gask adds: “For the first time in years you can be as selfish as you want and focus on your own needs. So do it.”


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7. Have adventures

Family holidays are often a matter of compromise for parents, especially with teenagers in tow. But now it’s your choice, so make the most of your freedom. From trekking up mountains to backpacking round South East Asia, you can go where the mood takes you, without any moaning family members making you adapt your plans to suit them. And don’t forget smaller adventures, like learning to sail or paddle board – new skills build up our confidence and make us feel fulfilled.

8. Ask for help 

If those bleak feelings are getting you down, don’t forget that Benenden Health members can always get support from the Mental Health helpline. Available to members from day one of membership, if you’re struggling with your feelings, a qualified therapist will be at the end of the phone to offer you support.