Finding Happiness as an Empty Nester

What do you do after the last chick leaves the nest?

What do you do after the last chick leaves the nest?

I thought when my youngest son, Christopher, moved out, I wouldn’t be like those OTHER mothers who cry a river and mourn the loss of motherhood. No empty nest syndrome for me!

After all, I had a very full life. My marriage was still going strong with my husband after 30 years, I had recently celebrated the publication of my second young adult novel, a second grandchild was on the way, and we were planning a trip to Germany.

So imagine my surprise when I wasn’t such a big girl after all. As I watched my baby pack up his stuff and move out, I sobbed, wailed, and bawled, all the while lamenting that we women only fully appreciate motherhood once it’s gone. My husband didn’t carry on like me, but I swear I saw tears in his eyes too.

At first, the house seemed way too quiet and empty. But then a funny thing happened. The good news is that like a lot of women today, once I adjusted, it became a wonderful and exciting time of life.

My husband, Scott, and I had quiet time to reconnect with each other. We came to appreciate the opportunity for spontaneous date nights and enjoyed intimate dinners for two at home. We signed up to learn sign language in preparation for volunteer work with the deaf. I had more time to focus on my writing. We both enjoyed our new-found freedom and privacy.

In addition, we found joy in watching our youngest child transition into adulthood. We could see the fruits of our labor realized which was very satisfying and rewarding.

The fact is that “empty nest syndrome” no longer has the same meaning as it did in the past when the term was associated with depression and loss of identity. Today, many women have fulfilling careers and active lives after their children leave home.

Of course, this was my personal experience and I realize empty nest syndrome isn’t the same for everyone. Some parents continue to feel apathy and a sense of loss well after their last child leaves home. This time period can be particularly hard on single mothers who overnight find themselves alone or for those in fragile marriages which have been largely held together by raising children. After spending decades as a parent, it’s not surprising that this change can be difficult. In addition, you may be facing additional challenges such as menopause, retirement, or caring for aging parents.

If you’re having trouble adjusting to this new phase of life, there are positive steps you can take to find your bliss.

  • Start planning for this next stage of life before it arrives. For instance, join a dance class or begin renewing old friendships. Experts agree that keeping busy and tackling new challenges can ease the sense of loss you may be feeling. I’m not talking about drastic changes like selling your house and buying an RV to travel the country or quitting your job to pursue some random wild dream. But perhaps this is the perfect time to make some changes in your career path, go back to school, or volunteer in your community. Perhaps you’ve always wanted to play the guitar, take up painting, or start that novel you’ve been putting off. This may be your chance to follow your passion. (See my article, “Finding and Following Your Passion” for more information.)
  • If you’re married, now that the kids are gone, perhaps you and your spouse can find common interests or hobbies to enjoy together. Maybe you’ll rediscover your love for bike riding or hiking, learn to sail, sign up for French lessons and plan a trip to Paris, take country line dancing lessons, or become certified scuba divers. The door is wide open.
  • Going to the gym may have been one of the first things you gave up after you had a baby, but now that you have fewer obligations you can put exercise back on top of your list. Along with all the health benefits, exercise is a great mood lifter. Join a gym, learn a new sport, try a Zumba class, sign up for country line dancing lessons, or take up jogging. If you have a friend who has recently become an empty nester, you’ve found the perfect workout buddy. Reward yourself afterwards by having a cup of coffee or seeing a movie and you’ll also create social opportunities to get you out of that empty house.
  • If you can’t quit worrying about your child’s well-being now that he or she is out of the home, try setting up a regular schedule to chat for your own peace of mind. Skype is a wonderful tool for staying in touch these days.

If you’re feeling down after your last child leaves home, try some of these tips. Instead of looking at these years negatively, try looking at this time as a unique opportunity to pursue life-enriching, exciting, and fulfilling activities.


Julie A. Gorges is the author of two young adult novels, Just Call Me Goody Two Shoes and Time to Cast Away and co-author of Residential Steel Design and Construction published by McGraw Hill. In addition, hundreds of her articles and short stories have been published in national and regional magazines, and she received three journalism awards from the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association while working as a newspaper reporter. Julie currently lives in southern California with her husband, Scott, and has two grown children and three grandchildren.

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8 Responses

  1. Sally Jardon says:

    I remember when my baby left home. It felt as though I had been kicked in the stomach. The pain was physical not just emotional. The mother’s bond is an amazing thing (were it not so we would murder them as teenagers). We have to remember that before we were mothers we were women.

  2. Linda Biggs says:

    I recall the physical pain like it was yesterday. As husband and I drove off after leaving elder daughter at her University accommodation neither of us could speak. Kat stood on the doorstep of her new ‘home’ and waved us off, and I could barely see her through the tears. I still have no idea how we navigated out way out of Bristol (way before the days of SatNavs). We had to stop at the first service area on the motorway and as soon as husband turned off the ignition we both sobbed ourselves dry! My chest hurt, my stomach felt sore and I was tired. So tired. The three of us hadn’t slept properly the night before, each dreading the following day’s goodbye.

    It took around a month before I felt I could function properly again, during which time I tortured myself by sitting in her room, looking at the stuff she’d chosen not to take with her. Eventually I had stern words with myself – I had to – because while I was in my own little world of ‘bereavement’ I was neglecting the well being of my younger daughter who was missing her sister.

    Apart from the deaths of my parents, Kat’s leaving for university was an enormous period of readjustment that involved the whole family.

    On reflection, the impact of it is clear because the memory of it is has never faded in 19 years. But what also became clear was after the initial period of Kat’s absence, we adjusted quickly and went about our business as usual. In fact she used to tell us off for only phoning her three times a week! We had tried phoning every day, but got told off for that as well. We still laugh about that even now.

    • juliegorges says:

      Thanks for sharing your story, Linda. It is a time of adjustment! Your last few sentences cracked me up. Isn’t that the way it is with our children – so true to life.

  3. I liked your article. I am a retired international
    Oil and gas transactional lawyer and have recently self published on a memoir, “This is the Story of Our Life,” which chronicles the events of the life of a two career baby boomer couple who fell in love at first life at y law school graduation! married after a whirlwind courtship and moved far away from family and friends on our wedding night to forge a life on our own. We raised two wonderful children who both got married in the same year and also moved away. We have reinvented ourselves and have a wonderful life. I have created a blog, Baby Bloomer Blues, to share some of our stories and hopefully somehow promote my book but I really don’t know what I am doing and how to do it. It appears to be a daunting task and frankly I’m scared to death of the vulnerability.

    • juliegorges says:

      Writing and marketing a book is indeed a daunting task. But nothing ventured, nothing gained. Educate yourself (there are plenty of books at the library and information on the Internet), take one step at a time, and then just try to have fun with it. And yes, writers make themselves vulnerable – you’ll have to develop a thick skin – but it can be a worthwhile endeavor.

  1. July 14, 2014

    […] I wrote in a past blog, when my youngest son, Chris, left home, I didn’t think I would be like those other mothers […]

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