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Our Your Empty Nest Experts

Claudia Arp

Claudia Arp

Co-founder of Marriage Alive International

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Natalie Caine

Natalie Caine

Therapist, coach and author

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Dr. Ellen Neiley Ritter

Dr. Ellen Neiley Ritter

Founder of Family Transitions Coaching

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Filling Your Empty Nest

Don’t Suffer the Empty Nest in Silence

In the past, you probably said things like, “I’ll take that salsa class when I have time,” or “The kids have soccer practice; I’ll work on that painting when I have time.” Well, now is the time.

When your house gets uncomfortably silent, dive into an activity you always wished you had time to do. Pursue creative interests like playing the piano, repairing clocks, ballroom dancing or learning a foreign language. Think of this as an opportunity to reclaim your passions or discover new ones. You may also want to use this time to volunteer, suggests Burghardt, as it allows you to fulfill your need to help others.

Kathy and Greg Specks found that staying busy was a critical aspect of adjusting to an empty nest. Greg works as an English teacher, but he also plays gigs in a zydeco band on the weekends. Kathy joined a gym and enrolled in a master’s degree program. Both agreed that these activities kept them from dwelling on the sadness of their empty nest. “You need to have your own life—one that makes you want to get up in the morning,” Greg says.

While you’re out and about doing fun things, try to make some new friends. You may have had other parents to talk to when the kids were around, but that social network may have fallen apart as your kids grew older. “Dan had major withdrawal not having the boys’ sports events to go to where he could see friends,” says Karen.

Make a conscious effort to combat this social loneliness and reconnect with friends and family. Invite them over for dinner or out to see a movie. Your friends will likely ask about your kids, giving you an easy opening to talk about how you’re handling the situation. These friends will be good company for the quiet times and give you some valuable perspective on your empty nest.

“Make time to have conversations with your friends about how the empty nest will change the friendship,” says Disbennett-Lee. Whether you are a single parent or part of a couple, she also suggests telling your friends that you are interested in getting out there and meeting other people. This could lead to additional connections and even a prospective partner.

Avoid spending your time focused on when your children will call or be home again. Getting stuck there prevents healing and growth from occurring. The truth is, if you’ve parented your children lovingly and caringly, they’ll always be home for vacations and holidays—and maybe even for an “extended stay” until they get on their feet. Like you, your children will feel the need to reconnect.

What may seem like a splitting apart of your family now will most likely result in the opposite. “The bottom line,” says Sal, “is that their sense of family is very strong. It was the best thing that happened, having them move away. It taught them that family means something.”

Posted: 11/29/07

My last child left the nest, and is over 3000 miles away, about 3 days ago. I feel like nothing I do-making dinner, cleaning the house, etc. has any real purpose anymore. All three of my adult children are hours away. My family lives in Michigan, and we are in Windsor. I'm really in a funk right now. The silence is overwhelming. I turned to your website for some inspiration. I have a job still-five days a week, so that keeps me busy. My son & his girlfriend were my best friends. I feel like a big piece of me is gone. Nothing seems to make me feel happy right now. I really need to get up and get motivated. I'm hoping your website will help me to cope. We don't have a lot of money to go on trips right now. I have no desire to return to school again. My friends are great, but they are busy too. I have found just reading that this is a normal thing that alot of parents go through has been helpful. Thank-you.

  • By Denben
  • on 3/6/11 6:31 PM EST

My daughter, only child, left one month ago for college. It was really the anticipation that was the hard part; Is she going to be ok, how are we (my husband and I) going to be after 19 yrs with a child to back to just "us". Turned out she was fine and knowing that we are fine. We love the peace; love the visits...funny how it all just seems right...we are all good!

  • By Stella2
  • on 10/1/10 7:18 PM EST

I have the emptiness of "old age" never had 'empty nest" when the children left- i had a wonderful carreer, many friends, and
charity activities. Now i have had 2 surgeries, most friends are gone either by death or moving, and i the busy freak ,am just really undecided as to what to do-there is not one group that fits this. I may move to a "community" but that takes effort and stress. And the "family" is scattered. I cant be the only one because no one is ever the only one. and the 3rd surgery scares me. mclaire12


I hit the empty nestor syndrom big time 8 years ago when my only daughter left to College. It does get better... My daughter is a Jr. High School teacher...Those first few years were hard...being a single parent..but I had to learn that my identity was not my daughter.

  • By hzleyz
  • on 4/28/08 8:40 PM EST