Empty Nest Syndrome

People want their children to grow up and lead independent lives. Yet parents often feel lonely, sad, and filled with grief when their children depart.

Grief, depression, a loss of purpose and a sense of sadness may be experienced when children enter their own relationships or when they start their college careers. Women normally suffer more than do men and feelings of sadness may be more pronounced among women were full-time mothers. 

Empty nest syndrome is not a clinical disorder or diagnosis. It is a transitional period in life that highlights loneliness and loss. Parents want to encourage their children to grow into independent adults. However, the experience is often bittersweet or emotionally challenging.

Symptoms

The individual may feel:

  • Sadness
  • Loss
  • Depression
  • Loneliness
  • Distress
  • A loss of purpose and meaning in life

Professional help is recommended if the parent is crying excessively and for long periods. Special attention must be made if daily life and work are impeded.

Causes

If the parent and child had a relationship of conflict, detachment, or hostility, both parent and child may suffer more after the child's departure from home. The best outcome includes a meaningful relationship and support between all individuals. Positive relationships gives all parties a better chance at healthy interaction, which is necessary for young adults moving toward independence, as well as for parents who are advancing in age.

Treatment

Treatment with a health-care practitioner may be recommended if loneliness, depression, and sadness are in any way overwhelming the individual. Psychotherapy is beneficial when managing the symptoms. A health professional may even recommend prescription medications.

For many, coping with an empty nest is mitigated by remaining in contact with the child. A parent can keep in touch with their child via weekly text, email, or phone calls. In times of stress and loneliness, reaching out for social support can also be helpful. In addition, diligent self-care—in the form of a healthy diet, plenty of sleep, exercise, and downtime—is recommended.

Instead of focusing attention on the child’s departure, some people cope with the transition through hobbies, travel, friendships, and career or education goals.

One’s identity may need to be reshaped, from parent of a child to parent of an adult child; this adjustment takes time.

References

  • Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition National Institutes of Health

Last reviewed 02/26/2019