Faith & Life


Empty Nest Syndrome Can Be Scary – or Rewarding, Challenging, and Fun

By Cathi Douglas     2/19/2020

It started when our middle child went off to study at UC Berkeley and grew worse when our youngest left for UC Davis last September.  

Nobody needed me to pick them up from baseball or football practice, help them with assignments, or whip up a big family dinner.  

For the first time in decades, I had free time. I didn’t know what to do with myself. I missed the 24/7 demands of mothering three healthy, active kids. I felt adrift. 

Still, I wasn’t alone. Some experts estimate that up to 75 percent of parents experience some symptoms of empty-nest syndrome, the time of transition following the departure of your last child from the family home, whether for college, marriage, or a job in a different town.  

For many parents, says Lisa Klewicki, a clinical psychologist and Divine Mercy University professor, this time of transition can be distressing.  

“The difficulty of adjusting to your changing role as a parent can lead to feelings of sadness, loneliness, and diminished purpose in life,” she writes in Catholic Digest. 

While people attribute the majority of empty-nest-related issues to moms, research shows that it hits dads just as hard, notes therapist and author Gregory Popcak. 

But it’s not all bad news, notes Popcak in “Feathering Your Empty Nest,” published by the Pastoral Services Institute. “For parents who are prepared, research shows that the empty-nest years can be a great time for getting new levels of enjoyment out of your marriage and your personal life,” he says.  


Couples Time 

While adjusting to our empty nest took time, I’m happy now. My husband Les retired last year and we’re doing more together, like the hike we took last weekend in Santiago Oaks Regional Park. 

Les is my personal trainer and we hit the gym twice a week. We took a class in Greek cooking last summer and next month will learn to cook Chinese dumplings. I’m also signing us up for a swing dancing class. 

We enjoy Philharmonic Society and Pacific Symphony concerts and plan to spend a long weekend with friends in Palm Springs next month. Last year we took trips to London, Vancouver and Victoria, and the Portland area. We’re discussing a big European trip to celebrate our 35th wedding anniversary in June. 


Time for Myself 

The empty nest means I can read novels, listen to true crime podcasts, spend time with my mother, and pursue long-delayed hobbies. I take yoga and go for long walks with blues or rock music throbbing in my headphones. I’ve always wanted to study Tai Chi but never had time – and I just earned my grey belt.  

Perhaps most important, I’ve set up a prayer table in the living room next to the fireplace with a candle and my Catholic Bible, rosary, prayer books and books about the saints.  

I finally have the time to develop and sustain a prayer life. 

Klewicki is right when she says an empty nest can be enjoyable. “If you are struggling,” she advises, “know that this stage of life does not need to be a time of suffering. Don’t miss out on this valuable time of your life. Make it something to look forward to with enthusiasm and excitement.”