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Empty Nest Syndrome


An empty nest syndrome refers to the feeling of loneliness, loss, and grief experienced by many parents or caregivers when the children moved out of the home. This may occur when the children started to live on their own, getting married or leave their childhood homes to further their studies. This is not a clinical condition. It typically affects women more as they are usually the primary caregivers. Other significant life events such as menopause and retirement which usually occurs concurrently make support and help should come in hand at the same time.

Photo 1: Empty nest syndrome affects us all differently depending on how we deal with it


Symptoms and predisposing factors

All parents are susceptible to empty nest syndrome. It depends on how each and individual react to such situation. However, there are predisposing factors that make certain parents suffer empty nest syndrome more than other parents such as

  • Dealing with other life events concurrently eg retirement, menopause.
  • Parents with unstable marriage.
  • Taking the change as a stressful condition, not something refreshing and challenging.
  • Full-time parents (stay-at-home father/mother).
  • Parents who think that their children are not ready to take adult responsibility and live on their own will experience more grief.

Symptoms of empty nest syndrome may vary from each individual. It includes a sense of loss of purpose and depression. They may spend time in the child’s empty bedroom while looking through their stuff and reminiscing their memories together. They missed the fact that they used to play the major role in the child’s life before. They may have dedicated 20 years or more of their life in bringing up their children and losing it now means that they have lost the motherhood role. This is true even if the mother is a working mom.

Many parents also developed feeling worried and anxiety regarding the children’s welfare. They are worried whether the children are ready to live independently in term of financial and emotional aspect. They may also experience guilt feeling whether they have adequately prepared their children to be in the real world.

Impact and consequences

A profound feeling of loss may predispose parents with empty nest syndrome to have depression, alcoholism, the crisis of identity and marital conflicts.

However, recent studies revealed that the phenomenon has been misunderstood. Most parents do experience empty nest syndrome but after a while, they adapt to it and enjoys many other benefits behind it. The empty nest may help to reduce work and marital conflicts. Children often bring financial stress to a couple, the burden in term of household duties particularly to women. Without the children, empty nest parents will have more time to each other; rekindle their relationship and interest by doing things that they may not have time before.

How to cope with empty nest syndrome

Empty nest syndrome is a significant stress. It can be a normal reaction but should be monitored in term of reactions and duration. The suggestion in coping with empty nest syndrome includes:

    • Accept the change. Instead, focus on helping your child to succeed and live independently and at the same time cherish the freedom and release from responsibilities that you are going to have.
    • Acknowledge your feelings even if you think that no one would understand. Allow yourself to grief and feel upset.
    • Give yourself time to adapt to the feelings.
    • Create rituals to acknowledge your feelings such as planting a tree or re-decorating your child’s old room.
    • Share your feelings with your spouse. Discuss regarding your plan and future planning with him/her.
    •  Seek advice from friends or family members who may share the same experience.
    • Prayer according to each religion may help you to find peace. Keeping a journal to express your feelings is another way.
    • Pursue back your hobbies. It’s time for you to enjoy back what you used to love.
    • Spend more time with your partner. Go for vacations, have a long talk, go for a morning walk together and many other activities you both enjoy doing together.
Photo 2: Go for a jog with your partner Source: http: //www.dreamstime.com/stock-photography-senior-couple-jogging-image1544254
    • Keep up with your usual routine. Eat healthily with regular exercise will keep you good shape and positive feelings.
    • Avoid making big decisions now eg moving to a new house etc until you have adapted with this situation. Take one problem at one time.
    • Keep in touch with your children. Telephones, messages and internet are now available technologies that can bring you closer to your children.
    • Look for new opportunities in your life. Some people started back to work when their children left the house. Or maybe you can plan to do things that you may have dreamt before for example opening a little coffee shop, travelling, charity projects etc.
Photo 3: Spend more time with your partner travelling and doing things that you both love doing together.
  • Take part in the community activities by doing activities such as charity work, religious activity, cycling, cleaning the neighbourhood etc.


  1. Clay, A.R. (2003). An empty nest can promote freedom, improved relationships. Monitor on Psychology, 34(4). Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/monitor/apr03/pluses.aspx
  2. Mayo Clinic. Empty nest syndrome: Tips for coping. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/empty-nest-syndrome/art-20047165 Accessed on 28 August 2015.
  3. L. Dennerstein, E. Dudley And J. Guthrie (2002). Empty nest or revolving door? A prospective study of women’s quality of life in midlife during the phase of children leaving and re-entering the home. Psychological Medicine, 32, pp 545-550.
Last Reviewed : 8 February 2017
Writer : Dr. Nor Hazlin binti Talib
Accreditor : Dr Ho Bee Kiau