What are the stages of empty nest syndrome?

Inside the Empty Nest

It's healthy to miss your children after they move away from home -- after all, you were probably accustomed to spending time with them almost every day for the last 18 years or so. Launching a child into the world -- whether it's your firstborn or youngest -- can stir up feelings of loss and emptiness, depression and anxiety. These are all normal feelings during a time of transition, and concerning empty nests, the feelings of loss often begin when the first child leaves home.

But if those feelings linger beyond the first few weeks or months after a child moves away, it's important to seek the help of your partner, close friends and family. You could even consider finding a support group of other empty nesters. Those who have trouble overcoming their feelings of loss or who find themselves sinking into depression should consider seeking the counsel of a therapist or other health professional.

It's also healthy to use the empty-nest transition period as a time to reconnect with your partner and to develop a peer relationship with your adult children. Some empty nesters find that once they become accustomed to their new routine -- one without soccer practice, lessons and school events -- they have more time and energy for themselves. This is the stage of exploration, a time to rediscover your interests, your friendships and the world around you.

This can also be a rejuvenating time for relationships. Results of a study published in the journal "Psychological Science" found that during the empty nest transitional period, married women were more satisfied -- and found more enjoyment in the time they spent -- with their partners (that's quality, not quantity; the amount of time spent together didn't necessarily increase) [source: Gorchoff et al].

And just when you think empty nest syndrome is coming to a close -- maybe you've set up regular phone calls, or use Facebook, Skype or online photo-sharing sites to help stay updated on your kids' experiences -- brace yourself. About 13 percent of parents of adult children report that at least one of their kids moved back into the nest in the last year [source: Wang and Morin].

Keep reading for lots more information about empty nest syndrome.

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  • Clay, Rebecca A. "An empty nest can promote freedom, improved relationships." American Psychological Association. Monitor on Psychology. April 2003. (May 9, 2011)http://www.apa.org/monitor/apr03/pluses.aspx
  • Gorchoff, Sara M. et al. "Contextualizing Change in Marital Satisfaction During Middle Age: An 18-Year Longitudinal Study." Psychological Science. Nov. 1, 2008. (May 9, 2011)http://pss.sagepub.com/content/19/11/1194.short
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