Empty Nest Heartache and How Long It Lasts?

Written by: Rujusmita Selvan – M.Sc (Clinical Neuropsychology)

Last updated date : July 24, 2022

If your last child is all grown up and about to leave home or he or she has already moved out, you might be experiencing some mixed emotions. Understand why empty nest heartache happens and how long does empty nest last.

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If your last child is all grown up and about to leave home or he or she has already moved out, you might be experiencing some mixed emotions. Understand why empty nest heartache happens and how long does empty nest last.

Being a parent sure has its ups and downs. From hearing their first words to waving goodbye on their first day as a senior in high school, having children is full of significant life events. 

But there’s one big event in family life that many parents struggle with. And that’s when their children leave home. 

Empty nest heartache is the distress one feels when their children move out of the home. This is not a diagnosis but a common problem in which parents experience loneliness and sadness.  

Chapter 1:
What Is Empty Nest Heartache?

We often hear the words ‘empty nest heartache’ when the end of the high school or college season draws near. It stirs up some mixed feelings anxiety, excitement, relief, and sadness.

On the one hand, you are proud to see your child go out into the world as an independent young adult. On the other hand, you cannot help but worry on their well-being. The good news is that you are not alone in your experience of empty nest heartache.

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Chapter 2:
Symptoms of Empty Nest Heartache

1. Loneliness

Following the departure of your beloved child, you may feel overwhelmingly alone. It can be isolating to wake up one morning and remember that your children are no longer living at home with you.

2. Emotional distress

Empty nest heartache can be a rollercoaster ride. One minute you are crying at the sight of a family photograph, and the next, you are fantasizing about what to do with your newfound space and freedom. This might lead you to feeling emotionally exhausted.

3. A loss of purpose

Being a parent, particularly a stay-at-home parent, is a full-time job. When you no longer see your kids daily, it can leave a loss of purpose in empty nest heartache. This void, or sense of nothingness, may cause you to feel as if you are lacking a purpose.

4. Fear of a lack of control

When your child moves away, you can no longer keep tabs on them. This can feel like a great loss of control for many parents. You may feel tempted to check up on them every hour and want to know their every move.

5. Worry and Anxiety

Your child moving out of home is a significant stress. Suggestions for coping include:

  • Acknowledge your grief (even if you feel that no one else seems to understand) and allow yourself to feel upset.
  • Rituals, such as funerals, help us to come to terms with difficult changes. Create your own rituals to help acknowledge your feelings. Suggestions include planting a tree, or redecorating your child’s old room.
  • Discuss your thoughts, feelings and future plans with your spouse.
  • Seek advice and support from other friends who understand how you feel.
  • Give yourself time to adapt to the changes. Don’t expect too much of yourself, particularly in the first few weeks or months.
  • Pursue your hobbies and interests now that you have more time.
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Chapter 3:
How Long Does Empty Nest Last?

Every parent will have a different experience of empty nest heartache. It may only last a few weeks for some, while it may persist for years for others. 

Typically, parents will experience the symptoms of empty nest heartache for a few months. ‘A few months’ may be anything from two months to a whole year. 

3 stages of empty nest heartache
Grief

When your child first leaves home, you are likely to feel overcome by feelings of sadness and loss. You may be feeling teary-eyed and emotionally triggered by the simplest things. This sadness could make you withdraw from everything.

Relief

After a few months have passed, you may find yourself relishing your newfound freedom. Instead of the mental load from having to drive your kids everywhere and never-ending housekeeping, you now have time for self-care when you are facing empty nest heartache.

Joy

Once you have ridden the roller-coaster of sadness, reprieve, and freedom, you should reach the stage of joy. Hopefully, you have settled into your new self-determined rhythms. Perhaps you might be finally booking that couple’s getaway. Or maybe, even a solo vacation.

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Chapter 4:
How to Deal With Empty Nest Heartache

There are ways for you to cope with empty nest syndrome:

Make social connections

Use your free time to reconnect with old friends. Understandably, parents may neglect their social relationships as they barely have time for themselves, let alone others. 

Seek Professional help

If your symptoms of empty nest heartache severe and they persist, you should seek professional help. A trained counselor can offer grief support and help you manage your emotions. The symptoms of depression may be confused with the symptoms of empty nest heartache, and if you suffer from the former, you can utilize safe and effective therapies.

Set goals for the future

Adopt a forward looking mindset that reduces feeling of grief. It creates a sense of motivation and promotes a healthy sense of perspective. Setting and achieving realistic goals promotes developing authentic identity.

Take up a new hobby or a career

Trying new activities in your area, ranging from book club or yoga class. This is a better way to maintain your physical health and also broadens your social circle. On the other hand, changing your career maybe a boost which embodies a side of yourself that you have neglected.

Focus on positives

You are allowed to feel sad about your child leaving home. That being said, their moving out is a normal and positive change. You should celebrate your child’s independence. Feel excited about all the opportunities that await them with learned optimism.

Keep in touch with your children

Thankfully, we live in an age of technology that allows for effortless global communication. Your child may live one block away or on the other side of the planet. Either way, you can still stay in contact. 

Physical distance does not equate to emotional distance. Stay in touch to show your child that you still love them unconditionally. 

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Chapter 5:
Final Thoughts

While parents should encourage their children to blossom into young adults with their own independent life, sending children off into the world can be difficult. If you are experiencing the emotions of empty nest heartache , it’s important to remember that you are not alone in feeling a sense of loss. Although, it is common in many parents around the world, do not feel pressured to compare your journey to others.  Invest in self-care and healthy relationships, and focus on the positive aspects of your child’s young independence.
Reviews 4.1

Learn evidence-based scientific ways of coping with chronic fatigue

99 Lessons

3 hours

  • Educational Content
  • Quizzes
  • Self-reflection material
  • Suggestions & feedback
  • Worksheet, tips & tools to use

€9.00 €12.00

25% discount