Empty Nest Syndrome: How to Cope When the Kids Leave Home

Many parents joke that they cannot wait for their kids to grow up and leave home. But when that time finally comes, some parents feel sad, lonely, and even depressed. Here is how to cope when your kids leave home.

Living With an Empty Nest

When Eileen's older daughter left for college, it was pretty easy for Eileen. That was because her daughter attended a nearby college.

"I missed her, but it wasn't a very big lifestyle change," she says.

A few years later, Eileen's younger daughter left to join the Air Force. Eileen's whole world seemed to turn upside down. "I fell apart," she says. "I was surprised by how hard it hit me."

Learning About the Symptoms

Situations vary from family to family. The parents feelings will also vary. Negative feelings may include:

  • Sadness
  • Loneliness
  • Emptiness
  • Uselessness, or no longer having a purpose in life
  • Guilt—if the relationship with the child was strained

In some cases, parents develop symptoms of depression, such as:

  • Problems focusing
  • Tiredness or lack of drive
  • Problems with work or personal relationships
  • Changes in eating patterns
  • Excessive worry or anxiety
  • Problems with making decisions

Sometimes these symptoms can last longer than a few weeks. If so, the person should see their doctor.

Accepting the Grief

It is normal to feel a sense of loss when your children leave home. Grieving helps you cope and adjust. If you feel like you need a good cry, do it.

It is okay to take time to grieve. However, do not let yourself to get stuck there. Grieving will help you move to the next step. If you cannot stop feeling sad, you may be depressed. Depression is treatable, so tell your doctor about it.

Seeking Support

During this change, it can help to talk to someone. Consider talking to friends who have been through the same thing. Talk to your spouse about how you feel. Chances are, they feel the loss too.

Having support is important. Support can also come from others outside family and friends. Try support groups, online groups, or counseling.

Preparing While the Nest Is Still Full

It may help to prepare before the kids leave. When your children are in high school, their lives change as well. They want more independence. It is a good time to begin letting them find their own way. It is a perfect time for you to find your own way, too. Take the time to think about yourself and what you want to do.

Think about hobbies, interests, work, volunteering, classes, or travel. If you have been putting projects off, start them now. You can explore options at your own pace. As your children break free, so will you. It will help you when the time comes for them to leave.

Shifting the Focus

It can help to focus on the positive side of an empty nest. Instead of thinking about your children being gone, think about the freedom you have.

Now that her daughter is gone, Eileen notices the food bill is much lower. She also does not worry about when her daughter will be home.

It is also important to praise yourself for doing a good job. Your kids are ready and willing to be independent. That is usually a sign of good parenting. Congratulations!


American Psychological Association

Mental Health America


Canadian Mental Health Association

Canadian Psychological Association


An empty nest can promote freedom, improved relationships. American Psychological Association website. Available at: https://www.apa.org/monitor/apr03/pluses. Accessed June 17, 2021.

The dangers of empty nest syndrome. Health—University of Utah website. Available at: https://healthcare.utah.edu/the-scope/shows.php?shows=0_etom70c6. Accessed June 17, 2021.

Empty nests filled with opportunities: how to deal with grief, free time and your new life without your child. AARP website. Available at: http://www.aarp.org/relationships/parenting/info-09-2010/goyer_empty_nest.html. Accessed June 17, 2021.

Major depressive disorder (MDD). EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/major-depressive-disorder-mdd. Accessed June 17, 2021.

Last reviewed June 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board   Last Updated: 6/17/2021