Parenting Adolescents — 04 December 2012
The empty nest syndrome – a “downer” or an “upper”?

The Empty Nest Syndrome, coined in the 1970’s, as “the feeling of depression experienced by some parents after their children have left home” may be challenging to endure. How can you manage this loss as you re-awaken the feeling of renewal within yourself and your marriage?

The sadness and grief that some parents feel once their child has left home is understandable. After focusing for many years on child rearing and preparing the youngster for autonomous living, the child’s departure may leave the parents feeling aimless, longing and lost.

For some individuals, parenting has been their job, their focus and the core of their personal identity. The conclusion of this phase may seem as startling as the sound of the door slamming when the last child leaves home. This feeling may be likened to being abruptly fired from a long-term job that one has cherished. Sadness and even a temporary depression is an understandable reaction to this loss.

However, the frequency of the empty nester experience has been reduced due to several factors. Assistant professor Linda Bips explains that this decline in recent years is due to parents’ ongoing involvement in their adult children’s lives that continues beyond the youngsters’ departure from home.

Another extinguisher of the empty nest syndrome is the frequency of children going to local junior colleges or working in their hometown and living near their parents. Also, due to economic changes, the 2000 census reported that almost four million young adults between 25 and 34 years old live with their parents. The parental expectation of reunification is high.

Claudia Arp, the co-author of Empty Nesting: Reinventing Your Marriage When the Kids Leave Home, finds the silver lining in becoming empty nesters. She states, “You get the opportunity to reinvent your relationship, to make midcourse adjustments. You have the chance to fall in love again.”

Another gift of being an empty nester is the opportunity to emotionally grow and nurture one’s self.

Couples who see the demand for active parenting begin to subside are wise to start

rechanneling their love energy toward each other. These efforts are not motivated by duty, obligation, love for a child or by personal self-definition, but by the need for greater couple intimacy.

Refocusing on each other with undivided attention, expressing appreciations, planning fun activities, being playful and romantic are likely to rekindle your original passion for each other. Restoration of the initial enthusiasm for each other is definitely a superb gift empty nesters can share with each other. You can renew the delight and the magic of your early years.

Use the empty nest experience wisely:

  • Accept that feelings of sadness, grief and loss upon the departure of your child are normal, appropriate and temporary.
  • Balance the temporary loss of connection with your child by reactivating your original marital attachment.
  • Explore and fulfill your previously unmet personal goals.
  • Practice the joy of couple intimacy.


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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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