Ready, set, empty nest

Senior Couple Standing

The day is drawing near…the day your home is void of the chatter and footsteps of your children.  Your nest, once filled with kids, will be silent and you will join the ranks of the empty-nesters. 

 “On the plane home, after moving my second child into her dorm, I just lost it,” admits Antoinette de Janasz, divorced momprenuer of two college students.  “I couldn’t stop tearing up.  I had always prided myself on raising my children to be independent and thought I would really enjoy my freedom,” states de Janasz.  “That deafening quiet was something that I didn’t anticipate.”

de Janasz found it had taken some time to re-adjust from Durand’s and Taylor’s mom to Antoinette.  And no wonder. Tina B. Tessina, PhD, psychotherapist and author of Money, Sex and Kids: Stop Fighting About the Three Things That Can Ruin Your Marriage, says empty nest syndrome is the emotional reaction to the big change that happens when the kids grow up and leave home.  It’s the reverse of baby shock. That reaction you feel when a baby changes your life overnight. Tessina warns whoever has had primary childcare will have the most difficult time with empty nest.

Dr. Jim Wasner, director of clinical psychology, says “Unless your feelings of remorse or sadness interfere with your everyday life or last for more than a few weeks, it’s perfectly normal to experience sadness as your reflect back.” 

“For parents whose whole lives have centered on the support and care of their children, this time can be particularly painful,” continues Wasner. “The same can be true for parents who spent much of their children’s lives working and may now be feeling that they missed the window in terms of creating a stronger bond with their children.”

Before your chick flees the nest

Dr. Shadick, professor of psychology, suggests parents and teens should spend time together by visiting the university’s web site, learning about clubs, mentoring programs, and majors. “That’s an easy way to talk, too, about how they’ll manage their time and what classes or activities interest them.” Best of all, time together provides the opportunity to bond before your child departs. 

As your children grow, don’t limit your conversation to strictly family topics, or questions about their personal life, recommends Tessina. Involve them in discussions of current events as you would a friend. Take a minute to think of “adult” topics you’d like to talk about with them.

Enjoying the empty nest

So, you might ask how one moves from 24/7 parenting to an empty nest. First, change your mindset. 

“It’s an opportunity for parents to focus on the areas of their lives they haven’t had the opportunity to do,” says Wasner.

Ultimately, get your own life recommends Kathy Miller, mom of twin boys in college.  Miller’s new life consisted of a board of directors position, ceramic class at an art center, book club, volunteering, a new dog, and girlfriend time for golf, lunch, shopping and support. 

Natalie Caine, founder of Empty Nest Support Services, suggests parents search back to what you liked to do after school when you were young. Were you a daydreamer, bike rider, leader, artist, musician, or story teller?  Those memories feed new creativity. 

“I found the writer in me,” says Caine, “which I forgot about until I had quiet.  I remembered my third grade teacher saying, ‘you could be a writer if you wanted.’”

Now you’ll have less commitments and more time for those hobbies you’ve shelved for years. Or those trips you’ve wanted to take. Or that business you’ve dreamed of starting.  

A couples’ nest

With the kids out of the nest, it’s time to turn back the clock to a time when that nest was just the two of you.  Tessina, also known as Dr. Romance, offers suggestions to married parents to keep their marriage from going stale. Frequent communication, intimacy, affection, understanding and concern for one another will keep the connection flowing in your marriage. More importantly, laugh together as much as possible and don’t forget to appreciate each other.   

And that’s just what the Shimbergs did.  After their fifth child flew from the nest, Elaine Fantle Shimberg and her husband traveled more, saw more movies and plays and sold their big home and moved into a condo. Shimberg says, “It was like being honeymooners all over again!”  

It’s happy time

This is your time to shine! When your children leave the nest, take time to reflect back over the years to all the times you said, “When I have time, I’m going to…..” 

Now is the time to jump-start your “me-time” list. This is your time to soar. 


MJ Rulnick <>  

The Frantic Woman’s Guide to Feeding Family and Friends (Grand Central, formerly Warner Books) 

The Frantic Woman’s Guide to Life (Grand Central, formerly Warner Books)