How to beat the “empty nest blues”


In this article:

  • It’s normal to have mixed emotions, including joy, sadness, uncertainty and excitement when your children leave home and you’re facing a new chapter in your life.

  • No empty nest is the same. Each situation is different depending on where you and your family are in life when it happens.

  • A licensed clinical psychologist at Swedish shares five ways parents can beat the “empty nest blues” and successfully embrace the opportunities and challenges that come in this stage of life.

Does your home seem oddly quiet and easier than usual to keep clean? Has your food bill dropped substantially recently? Do you find yourself with free time for the first time in 18-plus years? If the answer to these questions is, “Yes,” chances are good you’re entering the post-parental phase of your life — more commonly known as becoming an empty nester.

Now what?

We talked to Julia Terman, PsyD, a Licensed Clinical Psychologist and Behavioral Health Provider at Swedish, about the issues parents face when their children graduate head off to college or make the big leap of moving out of the family home. She shares five ways to navigate the challenges in this new phase of your life and enjoy your newly emptied nest.

Acknowledge mixed emotions

“For many, parenthood is a big part of what makes life meaningful. And so, it can feel like you’ve lost a lot of your purpose when the kids move out of the house,” explains Dr. Terman. “It’s normal to have a lot of different emotions when your child leaves home. I think there’s this sense of sadness that a chapter in your life is coming to an end. There’s also a sense of relief like ‘I did it.’ Some people experience fear and uncertainty about how they’ll fill their life now.”

“Acknowledge your grief but also try to view this period as an exciting opportunity to really get to know yourself a little bit better,” she adds.

Assess your values and goals

“All empty nests are not the same. I think it can feel different based on where you are in your life when your kids leave,” says Dr. Terman.

“Some people know what they want to do. They’ve wanted to turn that bedroom into a craft room for years. But for people who are a little bit more unsure, we’ll do something called a value sort where we compile and rank a list of values such as creativity, excitement and growth to help you make goals around the values you consider most important,” says Dr. Terman.

Reconnect with yourself and others

“For much of your life at this point, you’ve been wearing the mom or the dad hat. This is a chance for you to finally look and see where you are in your life. Make an effort to reconnect with yourself, your loved ones and your friends. Take advantage of this next chapter and really pursue things that will make your life meaningful,” says Dr. Terman.

“The possibilities are endless,” adds Terman. “Can you get involved at your church more? Do you have friends you can set up coffee dates with? Date your partner and get to know them again now that you’re not always talking about the kids. For people who are single parents, take the opportunity to think about the things you wish you’d had more time to do. And pursue those values."

Be intentional with the time you have left

“Be intentional about the last couple of months you have before your kid heads off to school. Identify the things that you want to do together before they leave. And then do them,” says Dr. Terman. “Try to cherish the time you have now.”

“Get on the same page about what communication will look like when they go. Answer questions like ‘Should I be expecting you to call me every day?’ and ‘Do you want me to call you?’ in advance to avoid misunderstandings and unmet expectations,” she adds.

Ask for help if you need it

Most everyone has feelings of sadness or loneliness when their last child leaves home. But if you experience ongoing issues that affect your daily life and relationships it could be time to get professional help, according to Dr. Terman.

“If you are having a lot of anxiety, worry or depression about this process, Swedish has in-person providers or telehealth options that allow you to access care virtually,” she explains. “Talk to your primary care provider about getting the care you need.”

According to Dr. Terman, making a significant change in your life can be challenging. But it can also be a time of growth and discovery.

“It’s figuring out how to put meaningful activities in your life that live out your values. It’s about honoring your feelings, knowing it’s a change in life, and trying to think about how you want to use this next chapter.”

Learn more and find a provider

If you have questions about behavioral health services, Swedish is here for you. Contact Swedish Behavioral Health and Well-Being. We can accommodate both in-person and virtual visits.

Swedish Virtual Care connects you face-to-face with a nurse practitioner who can review your symptoms, provide instruction, and follow up as needed. If you need to find a provider, you can use our provider directory.

Join our Patient and Family Advisory Council.

Related resources

Epidemic of loneliness and isolation

Helping kids face change and uncertainty

An active social life is good for your health

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional’s instructions.

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About the Author

Whether it's stress, anxiety, dementia, addiction or any number of life events that impede our ability to function, mental health is a topic that impacts nearly everyone. The Swedish Behavioral Health Team is committed to offering every-day tips and clinical advice to help you and your loved ones navigate mental health conditions.

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