What is empty nest syndrome?

Published Nov 24, 2022 • By Claudia Lima

Empty nest syndrome is a feeling of grief and loneliness experienced by parents whose children have left their family home.

Who is affected by empty nest syndrome? How does it manifest itself? How can it be overcome?

Read our article to find all the answers!

What is empty nest syndrome?

What is empty nest syndrome? Who can be affected? 

One of the key stages in the life of a young adult is leaving their family home.

In Europe, the average age of young people leaving their parents' home varies greatly from country to country. The earliest are the Scandinavians, they leave their family homes between the ages of 19 and 20. The most reluctant to enjoy their independence are the Portuguese, the Croatians and the Greeks, who tend to move out after the age of 30. In the US, most young people aged 27 do not live with their parents.

The majority of those affected by empty nest syndrome are mothers, especially if they are unemployed. Single parents are also more affected. The departure of a member of the household requires adjustments to daily life. The parental function is "turned off" and a feeling of emptiness may arise.

The departure of a child who has become a young adult leads to a significant family reorganization since, during his or her presence in the family home, the child had an important place in the family's daily habits and plans. This reorganization and change of routine can cause anxiety and depression.

Empty nest syndrome can develop following the departure of one's first child, as well as of the last one.

However, not all parents are affected by this disorder; when a child moves out, some parents see it as the return of their freedom. Still, the euphoria of the first "free" months can sometimes fade and give way to lack of emotional response. In this case it can be helpful to establish a new daily routine.

What are the symptoms of empty nest syndrome? 

Empty nest syndrome causes a range of physical and mental symptoms that occur once the children have moved out from their family home.

For the parent(s), this departure can lead to feelings of sadness, loneliness and abandonment, to heartbreak, physical and mental fatigue, concentration problems and loss of libido: It can also have an impact on their social and/or marital relationships.

The signs of empty nest syndrome depend on the relationship between parents and children, as well as on the departure conditions: whether they were serene or turbulent.

For women, empty nest syndrome can occur in parallel with the onset of the premenopause or menopause and thus lead to the development of other symptoms, including hot flushes, sweating, sleep disturbance and irritability. This can accelerate the onset of chronic depression.

For some it also coincides with the retirement, which can be a lot of emotions to deal with at once.

However, the departure of a child from their family home can also give rise to positive feelings such as joy, happiness and pride.

What can you do to cope with the effects of empty nest syndrome? 

The departure of children from their family home is an important stage in the life of every parent. It does not happen overnight. It is the natural order of things that children move out from their family homes to live their own lives, as they do not belong to their parents and the education they receive is intended to make them independent.

This is why this departure should be anticipated! To prepare for it, it is necessary to give your child responsibilities that he or she can handle on their own; to teach them to manage on their own, give them all the keys to be able to do it and not to worry too much about their future far away from family home. Parent-child relationship constantly evolves as the child grows up: the orders and control give way to advice and support, which allow parents to be there for their children but at the same time not to encroach on the personal life of young adults.

When your child moves out, you should try to avoid certain types of behavior, and follow some recommendations:

  • Accept the fact that your child is moving out, and the emotions it generates: you should be aware of the physical and mental impact of this important stage of your life, in order to better cope with it;
  • Do not pass on your anxieties to your child: it is normal to feel anxious but you have no other choice but to trust your child;
  • Do not make your child feel guilty: you should not blame him or her for leaving, either consciously or unconsciously, he or she is no longer a child but a young adult;
  • Keep in touch with your child on a regular basis: you should avoid both calling them constantly and ignoring them completely. It is essential to maintain good, well-balanced relationship;
  • Feel proud: the departure of your child is not a failure, it is the result of a successful education.

Another thing you should think about is: what can you do after your child leaves your family home? This is an opportunity for the parent to find themselves (again), to take time for themselves, i.e. to remember their life before having a child, without the responsibilities that go with it. Parents can start doing things and taking up projects that do not involve their child.

For parents in a relationship, having a child sometimes means putting the relationship aside in order to focus on the child. The child's departure is an opportunity to focus on your couple.

It is not at all ridiculous to suffer from empty nest syndrome. If sadness becomes overwhelming and the transition period becomes too difficult to handle, you should not hesitate to seek medical help.

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Take care!

avatar Claudia Lima

Author: Claudia Lima, Health Writer

Claudia is a content creator at Carenity, specializing in health writing.

Claudia holds a master's degree in Entrepreneurship and an Executive MBA in Sales and Marketing Management. She is specialized in... >> Learn more


on 11/25/22

I would like to have more spoken about husband and wife that are still in a happy marriage "empty nest" Though not normal happy marriages do still exist. Thank you for your time

on 11/26/22

well in a little over a year my baby girl will be graduating high school (2024). I divorced her father almost ten years ago so it’s just been here and I. I’m already starting to freak out. I’ll have to move due to the loss of income. Her child support was more than my disability. I’m already at y starting to miss her. HELP.

on 11/29/22

It has been over five years and I think of them daily. Very difficult but what does help is seeing the success of my kids. I have grandkids and this also helps. No quick answer and you have to take one day at a time!

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