Beyond Blue

Beyond Blue

Empty-Nest Depression

Since many mothers have just shipped off their offspring for the first time since they brought the babes home, they are experiencing what mental health professionals have termed “empty nest depression.”

I have to be honest, I can’t really relate to that right now from where I’m sitting, at the beginning of flu season trying not to think about what kinds of bugs, viruses, and bacteria are going to come home in those school bags this winter, and the homework assignments are requiring more and more parental involvement. It’s pretty much like going back to school ourselves.


But, yes, there is very definitely an empty-nest depression, as expressed by Yolanda on the message board of my “What Do You Want From Me?” post:

I have lost the comfort of being a mom because my daughter is 17 and no longer needs me. I based my WHOLE entire being on being her mother and giving her all I had. I guess I thought we would be together forever. That is not the case. I have been downsized and laid off from almost every job I have had and now I have been let go of the most important job ever and that hurts the most.

And reader Betty wrote this comment, ironically, on the message board of my post, “Guardian Angel Reunion“:


My daughter is going off to college and my son just turned 13 in May and my daughter 18 also in May. I am now, I guess, getting some of the empty-nest syndrome, but is it really? Some days I get so low and cry until I make myself sick to my stomach.

Would any readers out there who have grown kids like to comment on how they were able to fill the void?

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Lori in AZ

    I too am suffering from pre-empty nest. May son is 20 and will be 21 in December and go away to a University not close by. My youngest daughter is 18 and is going to community college. They both work and go out with friends. I too, feel a great loss, loss of not seeing them, loss of how things used to be when they were young and I helped them with homework, made dinner, was there to help with every problem. Now my house is very quiet and I hate it. I’m proud my son got accepted to the University yet know I will cry to no end when he leaves. I am even talking to a counselor about it. We’re trying to figure out why I have such a “death-grip” as my counselor put it, on them. And when they are out, I worry about them, are they safe, making good choices, etc. My counselor said it is a normal part of life, which I get, but I get super upset and cry about it just thinking about it. S

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Mary Anne Thompson


    You REALLY hit me where I live! My son Joshua is 29 and lives in his own apt. The daughter I had 22 yrs ago and gave up for adoption after flying here to meet me for my bday in April is no longer talking to me. Then there is my youngest, my daughter Alyssa who just turned 16 who was taken from me by her Father’s Mother who has custody of her in Louisiana. The only one of my 3 children I ever see or talk to is my son and that is rare. I recently learned my Mother who I cared for over 20 yrs has now been upgraded from Dementia to Alzheimer’s and my 1/2 Sister who cares for her does not make her available to me. I am feeling alone, really alone! If it were not for my friends on FB, here on Beyond Blue, I do consider you a dear friend of mine I would not have anyone.
    Since my car accident over Labor Day wknd I have been in bed or on the couch, my already bad back worse than before. I question God, what is it you have left for me to do before I can leave this frickin planet? Now on the local news they talk about the satelite that is going to be falling to Earth between now and Sat. Friday now is the forecast I believe. This nest is empty, my heart has been empty. I have been reading Beyond Blue again, thinking of you. Using all the tools I have learned over the yrs from 12 step programs (I too am and adult child of an alcoholic parent) I try to read the feel good, inspirational self help books. I have tried to keep up with my gardening, time outdoors with Mother Earth & Father Sky. But I am really in the pits. Please send some special prayers up for me…and keep in touch. I treasure having u be a part of my life!


  • Monika

    I had empty nest depression set in when my youngest turned 18. Even though she still lives with me, she no longer needs me as much. I coped by getting a pair of parakeets and a pair of cockatiels. Learning about them and how to care for them filled the void that I had inside of me. Getting a pet may not be for everyone, but it worked for me.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Christina W

    Though not a mother, I can tell you I completely identify with a lot of what these mothers are writing..because..I took care of my mom for YEARS before she died in 2009. In many ways it was like having a child. I poured almost 100% of myself in keeping her happy, safe, loved, etc. I did not mind. However, her dying came fast and furious…just 16 days after a routine physical showed she was full of cancer. God answered my prayer though, allowing me to keep her at home and literally be holding her when she died. I am now, at 44, an adult orphan (my father died 9 years ago). I have yet to find stability, emotions coming and going, feel useless, the space her death has left echoing almost all the time. Maybe, like some have said, I should’ve reserved some of myself for myself, and yet, like these mothers, when you love someone and want the best for them, how do you NOT invest yourself? I have no regrets in deciding to care for my parents, though the price of the pain of losing them is high, I will tote it around until I can find a place for it. But the empty nest symdrome is not just for mothers or fathers as the nest of the family varies from person to person.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment clm

    I recall the difficulty I went through when my daughter went off to college. She was 1500 miles away, definitely not a quick trip to visit from either direction, so our homesickness for each other definitely had to be dealt with in other ways. On my side, I looked for new things to do! I had organized a women’s study group at my church. I had friends who reached out to include me in ways they hadn’t in the past. We had today’s technology, which my generation of “emptynesters” hadn’t had. I cleaned the house, though not her room, and then learned to do things I hadn’t had time for over the past 18 years of keeping track of her and her activities. Today she is married and expecting her first child! (She met her young man at the first social activity her school held!) We don’t LOVE being apart from each other, but we have made communicating a priority, and appreciate our visits so much more than those who have never experienced separation. In case you’re wondering, I did cry a lot. And I think that’s OK, because tears are healing. And after nearly 5 years of doing this, we both still cry a bit. But, I can see what a beautiful mark she has made on the world, and is continuing to make, and my heart feels good to know I had a small part of that!

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Razz2

    My daughters are now 30 & 32 so have been long gone from “home”, at least in terms of living with us. I never had that empty nest feeling for although they may not have been living physically in my house they came to me with their problems on a regular basis and some times with their successes! Our youngest has her own struggles with mental health and so “crisis” was/is just a phone call away. What I didn’t miss for one minute when they moved out was the loss of drama and turmoil. The non-stop upset wore me down so badly that by the time our youngest moved out the relief of not having that 24/7 under my nose was heavenly.

    Empty nest? It will never be empty, just sometimes there will just be two of us living in it but the presence of our girls is always in it. The oldest is well on her way of being a happy and productive adult and making her own place in the world. The youngest is just now turning that corner and we’re seeing maturity happening with each passing day.

    Now I’m freer to do those things I was planning on doing when I “grew up” but didn’t have time for. Watching them make their own “nests” brings me great joy!

    Be good to you – Razz

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Julia

    With my children being 33, 25 and 19 I was in the child rearing phase of my life for a long time! Prior to launching “the baby” of the group my husband and I had made big plans for the next phase of our lives. I really believed I was ready for this and was so excited. We retired from our jobs upon his graduation from high school, sold our house and picked up and moved to a condo in a new city! Whew lots of changes that human beings are not emotionally equipped to deal with at once. Long story short, lots of mixed feelings, crying and confusion, sliding into full-blown depression. A good therapist and anti-depressants helped me to work through this crazy time. I am now happy and content and in a peaceful place, but not without a lot of work and a whole new level of respect for what I was dealing with. The happy/sad/grieving thing is very confusing and I, like many others , believed I could “fix myself” with meditation, prayer, exercise, etc.!! My therapist has encouraged me not to refer to that period as a breakdown, but rather as a breakthrough. And he is correct in that I came to understand myself and the dynamics of my life on a whole new level. If you are dealing with anything like this, go talk to somebody sooner rather than later. You’ll be glad you did.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Jan

    I smiled when I saw the number and length of the responses to this question! I have just one daughter who is now 22. When she left for college at age 18, I braced myself but it wasn’t enough! After the whirlwind of her high school activities and the everyday closeness we felt, it was quite a loss to be hundreds of miles away from her. The fact that I had taken an early retirement two years before combined with an empty nest really led me to a deep depression. The demanding career I had for so many years and the rewarding life I had lived as a mother were suddenly gone and I nosedived into a deep depression within a few months of my daughter’s departure from “home”. Fortunately, my husband was very concerned and supportive, and the medical care and therapy aggressive. It was an unexpected crash for me, but I made it through. It warms my heart to realize that other women, too, go through a period of grieving when their children leave home. It is a hard change to deal with but still worth loving someone so much for. We are blessed immeasurably by our children!

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Dee

    When my only duaghter left for college 3 years ago I entered the “Empty Nest Triangle.” I became a recluse after years of heavy involvement in her sports, school activities and concerts. I cried for a year, lost 30 pounds (nice, but not recommended) and was diagnosed with depression (ya think?), menopause, and various other maladies. I have been up and down, living for school breaks and summer vacations. I finally hit bottom in June of this year. I could not get out of bed. Enough was enough. I found a wonderful FEMALE therapist and have made more progress in the last month then the previous 3 years. Slowly I am returning to the world and deciding what role I am to play for the next 20 years.

  • http://yahoo kathryn

    Thanks to all the people who shared their stories and wisdom. My first daughter is off at college now and I miss her so. I have a large family to take care of but it nice to be reminded that it “ok” to miss her and know that this process will take a while. I am not good at giving myself a break.

    God’s speed to you all,


  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Sandee

    I’ve been struggling with this same issue since my second son left for college this fall. I have been a stay at home mom for the last 21 years and was unprepared for how lost I would feel. I’ve decided to start a blog and write about it since sharing with others helps so much and just expressing my feelings is therapeutic. I just got things set up yesterday and am hoping to do my first post today. If you’d like to check it out the name is “For such a time as this . . . Musings at Midlife.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment steve

    We recently discovered grandparents can experience empty-nest depression too, and it caught us *completely* by surprise.

    One of our grown children and family, including 2 young girls, lived with us (furnished basement apartment) for 3+ years. During those years, the 2 girls filled the place with laughter, sibling rivalries, everything … but mostly the laughter, and the irreplaceable curiosities and energies of just growing up. Suddenly they had to move to another part of the state for school for the parents … and today, *months* later, this house at times is unbearably empty. We are adjusting; and the little family is not more than a 3-hour drive away, so it’s not like we never see them …

    BUT, while it’s not as severe as one’s own children moving out after 17-18 years, nevertheless it is surprisingly and *remarkably* sad for my wife and I.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Lori

    Just reading these responses has left me in tears! My oldest child, my son, is now 23 and in his second year of graduate school. He had just turned 18 when we left him at college 500 miles away from home.For all the new empty-nesters, I will say that you do learn to live with it, but I have never gotten used to it let alone enjoy it (as some predicted). It took me a month or more before I didn’t cry every single day. My daughter is 21 and a senior in college. When we took her to school, I didn’t think I could bear to leave her, and I continue to miss her terribly. I am trying to adjust to my new normal, but it is not easy, and I am a clinical counselor! My relationship with God is truly the only thing that has gotten me through. My husband misses the kids but has been much better able to put things in perspective. Maybe it’s a mom thing.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment marina

    Betty i fully understand what you are saying. I know your mind tells you this is normal process but your heart says something totally different

  • Althea

    I say I would like to keep my son I raised in my pocket – he is 35 – but I don’t want to miss all that he does and becomes as his own person. He has been living abroad for 8 years and so the distance has been great and I still let go with the above thoughts. I trust he is as safe where ever he is as he would be in the states. I have been blessed with seeing and knowing a wonderful young man. Yes, it is hard at times and I need to remind myself of the above often. I am blessed to have a front row seat to see the growth and development of a great person.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Mimi

    In my case, I’ve never experienced the empty nest. My kids are 33,35, and 41 and they all did eventually leave home – physically, but they’ve always had the notion that home – me – would always be there for them.

    It’s my turn now. I’m leaving home with my ‘new’ husband of 8 years. We’re putting the whole country between us and them and they’re dismayed, feeling betrayed, abandoned, and otherwise shocked that I would ‘do’ this to my grandchildren.

    I feel like I’m gaining my freedom!

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Peggybythesea

    I just read this and speak to any mom that will hear me…It has been seven years since my last of three sons left home…The circumstances don’t matter…the feelings of the heart are mostly the same in Moms…I raised three boys from the time I was 18 until I was 48…A span of thirty years.
    I made being a mom my whole life. I had a rocky marriage, we are still together 30 years later, I never went to college. My biggest advice to young moms is to find something for yourself when the last one hits Middle School. I wish someone had told me that. Sounds logical…I just never did…Maybe it was three boys playing sports year round and we went to almost every game. Whatever it was…I was devastated seven years ago…I am just now accepting not being a mom as the last of the three will be married in 51 days…Yup, I am counting by days. I have learned that it was my own stuff, it was mom hanging on for dear life to the only people I felt ever really loved and needed me. Although this may not be the case for many…I think a mother’s heart loves caring for their children at all costs. The moms who stay home and don’t have careers are the ones who all of a sudden say what now? The emptiness sets in and for me it has been a long road…As my youngest gets married and their wives take over my role, as it should be, I look at them and feel pride and joy!! They are doing great,they are good to people, they are teachers and coaches changing the next generation with compassion and they have a hope to help inner city children change their lives. I am a proud mom who knows I loved and cared for them well..I pray for young moms and hope they will find things for themselves earlier and not have to suffer what I did. Especially now, we can do things on the Internet that make the time fly by! We can build a life around helping others like these pages do. I didn’t know about that!! I am definitely glad I was a stay at home mom…I just wish I had used the time alone for me more wisely…This is how I would advise young moms…I hope it helps.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment CAM

    Still working on that one. Both children are in college now and the house is disturbingly quiet. didn’t affect my wife like it did me…like someone has pulled out my heart and stomped on it. Getting better though and we still have our two Yorkies. Does feel like the purpose in your life has moved away with the kids.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Katie

    We have two daughters 22 & 19 who have left the nest. What helped me is recognizing and sitting with the emptiness, loss and sadness. Also, my husband remindes me to think of an event that happens every year on the lake where we vacation: The eagles nudge their offspring to leave the nest. We see the adults flying at their young to keep them from returning home. The young eagles land on nearby trees for a while and then we don’t see them on the lake anymore. We too are nudging our children to head out on their own where they can fly and soar. We must trust the process and trust that we’ve done our job and delight in our children.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment barb

    to Christina W: i fully understand your point of view. i too am an adult orphan. when my mom died nearly 4 years ago, it was very unexpected. i went to visit her and found her on the couch, deceased. i cared for her a long time since my dad died when they (mom and dad) were 46. i was 16. i also don’t know why God never gave me children but i don’t question it very often, for i am sure He had his reasons. He had another plan for me, and i pray i am fulfilling it to the best of my ability.
    parents, children, it doesn’t matter: empty is still empty. but, we learn to cope. life is totally a learning curve. best of luck to everyone. i’ll be praying for all of you!

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Kathy Q.

    I did not realize I had a syndrome. I lost my job, my mother and my twin daughters left for college all within a year. I’m still depressed. My husband coped with the girls transition by immersing himself in a de-wallpapering/paingting project. He just kept at it and dragged me along. I think it was helpful for him – but I’m still mourning my losses. I’ve been able to secure a new job but it’s not at the salary or position I previously had – I’m still mourning over my past.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Amanda

    My only daughter left home yesterday. The university is 3 hours away (driving). I feel like broken glass is being pushed in my heart. I know there aren’t a magic cure and an instant relief to this pain. I know (hope) it will pass ( one day), but right now is unbearable

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment barbi coast

    My daughter & I grew up together since she was 4; I was a single parent for 11 yrs. And my own parents died just before & after her arrival.
    She moved to PSUniv. with her boyfriend for 2 years. I objected at first, but she reminded me I left home @ 18, so what could I say?
    His Dad helped them move & I got to see much of Oregon on several memorable visits. We talked frequently and I just decided to be happy for all their joy & success.
    So it turned out to be a good thing!
    They came back to finish College in Durango, a 6 hr. drive, we made many times, & always made a fun trip out of it. And they came home too. They followed their dreams, making friends, skiing, learning to raise horses, enjoying school…
    Then she left her friends & family for her final semester in France. We celebrated her bon voyage and I wondered if she would ever come back?
    So I let her go. With my blessings.
    And because she was there we & her boyfriend’s family decided to travel to France & Italy at the end of the semester. It turned out to be a wonderful thing.
    They have since moved back and bought a little ranch & raised Champion horses, she is independent, knows how to take care of everything, and calls almost every day.
    This led to her job as a coordinator @ the Center For Creative Leadership….Which led to her current job as Coordinator for the U.S. Craft Brewer’s Assoc.
    Which allows her to travel the world and for us to see more of each other when she travels. So that’s a good thing. And she works from home so she is still involved in winning the highest awards in Dressage & Friesian Horse Shows. When they’re in Colorado, I get to go watch and cheer on the winning team. And that is awesome.
    I made a decision Not to entertain the thoughts that just torture me! I always try to be aware that I have a choice in what I think and remember I have to Let Go & Trust as there is Nothing I Can Do About It! “It takes an ocean of trust”….a very firm resolve, and repeated practice! But it allows me to be happy. A good choice.
    I think Kahlil Gilbran said… “our sorrow is possible because of the Joy we have had, and our Joy is because of the sorrow we once had.
    A Hawaiian saying is “No rain, no rainbows.”
    The moral of the story being, Let Them Go!
    What you may think is your loss, may just turn out be your greatest Joy: your children’s success!
    Godspeed to all of them. They are our future!

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Meg

    I was just wondering about this myself. My son is 19 and in his first year of college. He is still living at home, but he considers that since he is legally adult he is no longer bound by my rules. I disagree. I go in turns, being depressed and angry. He is getting ready to leave the nest, and I’m trying to help him finish growing up. It doesn’t help that he is special needs and emotionally immature. He is catching up socially but still sees no need to act like an adult. Yet he wants me to treat him like one.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Marcie

    I would love to know how to help fill the void. I’ve never been this person…sad and crying all the time, feelings of depression. I’ve always been the one to fix everything, the strong one. Now, as my “baby” is 16-1/2 and the oldest is already away at college, the last two years have me getting progressively more emotional and I feel the next two years will just get worse. I’m at the point where I feel I need to seek help, and I can see my husband’s frustration is more motivation to do so.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Sherry

    I have been on a continuos spiral of depression since my youngest has been in college. To make it even worse, his school is 800 miles away. I would love to speak with other parents who are going through this same situation. I am separated, so I don’t have my husband to talk to.

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