How to cope with “empty nest syndrome” when your last child leaves home

If you’re used to a busy family home, filled with the sound of your children laughing, shouting, and arguing, adapting to an “empty nest” may feel overwhelming.

And if so, you’re not alone. Indeed, the Independent recently reported on the actress Gwyneth Paltrow’s “impending empty nest grief”, as her youngest child plans to set off to university.

However, while seeing your children leave home may lead to mixed emotions, it could also offer an exciting opportunity to build a renewed sense of purpose.

Read on to find out more about empty nest syndrome and discover four practical ways to help you cope with the transition.

Telltale signs of empty nest syndrome

Empty nest syndrome describes the sadness you might feel when your last or only child leaves home. This is often (although not always) when your youngest child goes to university.

While it’s not a clinical diagnosis, there are several common signs that might suggest you’re experiencing this syndrome, including:

  • Sadness and emotional distress
  • Concern for your child’s safety
  • Feeling a lack of purpose
  • Loneliness
  • Relationship difficulties with your spouse or partner
  • Questioning your identity.

Fortunately, there are steps you could take to ease these feelings and smooth the transition to a new chapter of your life.

4 practical ways to cope with empty nest syndrome

1. View this change as a beginning, not an ending

Endings often have negative connotations that may lead to feelings such as sadness, regret, and loss. On the other hand, beginnings may hold the promise of something new, exciting, and hopeful.

So, shifting how you think about your last child leaving home could help you feel more positive.

For example, instead of focusing on concerns about your child’s safety and wellbeing, allow yourself to consider the world of opportunities that are opening up for them. Likewise, try to feel excited about all the new activities you’ll have time to take part in, rather than dwelling on feelings of loneliness.

While this may seem simplistic, there is a wealth of research to back up the power of positive thought. Indeed, one of the most commonly used therapeutic methods, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), relies on transforming unhelpful thought patterns into more positive ones.

In practical terms, talking to friends and family, or a professional, could help you alter your perspective. Alternatively, you might want to try writing your feelings down in a journal.

2. Set time aside for self-care

Self-care means taking time out to look after your physical and mental health. It’s especially important during periods of transition or emotional distress.

So, if you’ve spent years potentially focusing on your children’s needs above yours, try to enjoy having more “me” time.

Happily, there’s no right or wrong approach to self-care. Find something you enjoy that nourishes you and makes you feel good. That could mean going to a yoga class, reading a book, or simply enjoying a moment to sit in your garden.

It can be easy to prioritise other commitments when life gets busy, so it may be helpful to schedule time for self-care each day. Mindfulness techniques, such as breathwork and meditation, are fantastic self-care practices that you can easily fit into two-minute bursts throughout the day.

3. Identify new personal goals

If you’ve spent years seeing yourself first and foremost as a parent, you might feel uncertain about who you are and what your purpose is when your children leave home.

And yet, having a clear sense of identity and goals to work towards are often considered to be cornerstones of mental wellbeing.

This is where the good old paper and pen method could come in handy. Try making a list of all the things you’d love to achieve and don’t confine yourself to what’s “realistic” – dream big!

This might involve thinking about new ambitions or reviving ones you may have shelved due to family commitments, be that a fitness challenge, travel plans, or restarting your career.

While it might not be possible to pursue all your goals – at least not all at once – this exercise could provide valuable insight into what you enjoy, value, and prioritise in life.

What’s more, writing down your goals and sharing them with other people can be an extremely powerful way of motivating yourself to succeed.

Read more: 5 exciting adventures to add to your retirement bucket list

4. Reconnect with your partner and friends

You and your partner may have different emotions and coping mechanisms in relation to your children leaving home. This could potentially place strain on your relationship.

Talking openly and honestly about your feelings might help you reconnect and find a way to move forward together.

For example, you could explore new hobbies and social groups that you’ll both enjoy.

Meanwhile, if you’re not in a relationship, you may have lost touch with close friends who were an important part of your life before you had children. When the last bird flies the nest, it’s a great time to revive and nurture these relationships.

However you decide to cope with your newly empty nest, adopting a positive attitude and embracing this new phase of your life could also enrich your relationships with those around you.

Get in touch

When your circumstances change, it’s often a good idea to review your financial plan and check that it still aligns with your life goals.

If you’d like to know how we can help, please get in touch either by email at or by calling 0117 9303510.

Please note

This article is for general information only and does not constitute advice. The information is aimed at retail clients only.

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