• Christine Roslund, MFT, CPC

Are You Struggling to Enter the Empty Nest Phase?


Whether you’re launching your first, second, middle, or eldest child, each one who leaves home brings you closer to the proverbial “empty nest”. As I mentioned in The Process of Becoming a Fulfilled Empty Nester, there are different stages to this process. Each stage presents struggles that must be overcome before you can arrive at a place of fulfillment and peace within yourself and your newly empty nest.

Your struggle to enter the empty-nest phase may be related to your parenting style. For example, you may have wanted to be a friend to your kids, and acted more like a peer. Or you may have tried to protect your children by sheltering or controlling them. Perhaps you may have not fully acknowledged serious issues that your children struggled with, such as a disability or mental illness. You may have tried to minimize these concerns to lessen their impact, but doing so can actually impede your efforts to provide the help your children need. Parenting behaviors like these can contribute to the challenges you must resolve before you can find peace in your new phase of life.

You may have learned your parenting style from your own family, consciously or unconsciously, and duplicated how you were parented or took it to the opposite extreme. Regardless, the issues that your kids struggle with often come back to haunt you both, and the results usually surface in some way in your young adult as they evolve in their independence (and when you least expect it). For example, if you sheltered your child, she may not feel confident enough to manage her life independently when she gets to college and may want to return home. If your son struggled to manage life before he left home but you thought his troubles were within normal range, you may later find him struggling in school, anxious and depressed, and not doing well academically. Your young adult may not tell you these things right away, because they want to succeed – for you. But you may sense something is off. Or they may end up moving back home. Either way, you’re concerned and don’t know what to do. These issues must be untangled and dealt with so you can your child can get on the right path again.

However, even if you’ve had a healthy parenting style that hasn’t led to a backlash and your young adult is thriving, you may still struggle – especially if you haven’t prepared yourself for this time in your life. It can be a rude awakening to have no children at home and be left with yourself and your thoughts, perhaps for the first time in your life. Or left with your spouse, who may have become almost a stranger after you’ve focused most of your energies on parenting your wonderful kids over the past 18+ years. It can take some time to find a comfortable place within yourself, in your relationship and your life as you adjust to this huge transition.

When parents deal with the reality of what’s happening with their young adult and meeting their own needs, they are learning to take responsibility for how to care for themselves, their needs, wants, and desires. This is when they can start to create the life they really want to live – and to move in that direction.

If you’re struggling right now, take these steps:

1.How am I honestly feeling right now? (Choose an emotion such as lonely, sad, afraid, lost, etc.)

2.What do I need right now? Make a list of your needs. (Perhaps you feel a need to be with others, do something simulating, plan a vacation, clarify what you want, etc.)

3.Prioritize your list of needs.

4.What is one thing you can do to meet your number-one need? (Let’s say that your number one need is to be with others. Think, out of everyone you know, who you’d like to reach out to. If you want to plan a vacation, where would you like to go?)

5.Write out all the ways you can meet that need. (For example, if the need is to be with others, write out all the ways you can imagine enjoying being with others, such as going to activities together, having a gathering, or joining a meet-up group. Or, if the need is to clarify what you want from your new empty-nest life, start creating a vision and setting goals for yourself or get some coaching to support you.)

6.Commit to taking action. (Taking action means following through on one of the ways you’ve identified to meet your needs, such as by calling a friend and inviting them to join you for an activity you both enjoy, or planning your vision and goals, or contacting a coach to work with.)

7.Notice how you feel after you take action on that need.

8.Write it down.

9.Take the next action step to meet that need, and then move down to the next need.

10.Repeat the process from 4 to 10 until all your needs have been met.

Learning a whole new way to meet your needs can take some time. Be gentle and patient with yourself. Give yourself a break if you get frustrated. Don’t give up. Go back to it. This will help you move through your struggle and start to create an empty nest that will be both rewarding and fulfilling.

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