Prepare for an Empty Nest

July 3, 2017, 8:25 am | Malisa Rader, Laura Sternweis

AMES, Iowa – Eventually a family’s last child will move away from home, whether for college, the military or other employment, or perhaps just to live on his or her own. A positive perspective and some advance planning can help parents make a smooth transition from a full house to an empty nest, says Malisa Rader, a human sciences specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.

Prepare for an Empty Nest“Parenthood is full of adjustments. It starts when children are born and continues even when they move out of the house. Your parenting is about to change in a major way. It is bound to be a mix of emotions,” said Rader, who specializes in family life issues.

As parents move from the daily tasks of raising children to the stage when they have time to focus on themselves and each other, various outcomes are possible. Some may mourn the absence of children, while others may be giddy with excitement. Many experience a combination of feelings. Partners may realize they have forgotten how to be a couple or they may find themselves in a honeymoon like state.

Rader said there are no right or wrong ways to transition to life without children at home. Giving some thought in advance can help make the transition a bit easier.

Tips for a successful adjustment

“Seeing this new phase of life as an adventure can set the stage for a positive experience. Just as if you are moving to a new city, allow yourself time to adjust to the new normal,” Rader said.

Rader offers the following suggestions:

  • Acknowledge the impact of this life transition. Your family is changing and so is your relationship with your child. Tending to your own feelings will help you appropriately support your young adult moving toward independence.
  • Rekindle your relationship with your partner. You have done the job of raising children together, but perhaps that has left little time for each other. Now it is possible to reawaken some of the love and interest that brought you together in the first place.
  • Take care of yourself. Fill your refrigerator with nutritious foods. Spend some time outdoors and be sure to exercise. Get enough rest. Maintaining your health, or paying attention to it if you have been neglecting it, will help you feel your best.
  • Pursue interests. Give thought to what you have set aside while raising children. Are there hobbies you have not had time for? Volunteer opportunities you would like to be involved in? Vacations not taken? Now is your opportunity to do some of the things you have always wanted to do.
  • Get support from a friend. Reassure friends they do not need to make you feel better, just listen as you share how you are feeling.
  • Stay positive. Your child is starting an exciting phase of life and you have been a part of the journey. Celebrate this accomplishment.

Embrace this new role

“Technology has provided a variety of ways to stay connected with loved ones. However, just because we have the ability does not mean it is in the best interest of you or your young adult to do so,” Rader said.

“Have a conversation with your child to discuss what works best to stay in touch without being overbearing. Perhaps it starts as one text a day and one phone call or video chat a week, but be prepared for that contact to taper as your young adult builds confidence,” Rader said.

Parents should see themselves as mentors who mostly listen and occasionally offer guidance.

“Keep in mind that your child is now a young adult. There will be some mistakes or failures along the way. This is all a part of the learning and growing experience of transitioning to adulthood,” Rader said.

Seek help if needed

“For most parents, life without children at home can be a stage to look forward to, but it can be a tough time for some who find themselves particularly alone or in fragile relationships,” Rader said.

It’s normal to feel sadness or loneliness after a child leaves home; it’s not normal for those emotions to interfere with daily life. Anyone experiencing symptoms of depression that are interfering with daily living should contact a mental health professional to set up an appointment for an evaluation.

“We go to the doctor when we physically do not feel well, but too many of us try to deal with common mental health issues like deep sadness on our own,” Rader said. “We should take care of our emotions similar to how we care for our bodies. With a treatment plan in place to help manage symptoms, many find joy back in their life.”

Contact the Iowa Concern Hotline

Iowans can call the ISU Extension and Outreach Iowa Concern Hotline, 800-447-1985, for help and referrals for dealing with loneliness or sadness. The Iowa Concern website at has a live chat feature as an additional way to talk with hotline counselors. Agencies and professionals serving individuals and families can contact ISU Extension and Outreach county offices about Iowa Concern hotline number business cards available for distribution.

Photo credit: monkeybusinessimages/iStock/Thinkstock

About the Authors: