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Sadness and Joy: Managing the Transition to an Empty Nest

After decades of centering your children, orbiting around their schedules, and being there physically and emotionally the abruptness of having a newly childfree home can be discomfiting. For some, children leaving home highlights the distance that grew during the parenting years and culminates in both spouses starting a new journey, separately.

For others, it’s a time of renewal and reprioritization for themselves and their relationship. Research by Professors Mary Nagy and Jennifer Theiss revealed several positive changes couples experienced during the transition to empty nest, including increased couple time, communication, and privacy.

In spite of the positives, the transition to empty nest also presented challenges. Parents grappled with uncertainties surrounding their identity and role in relation to themselves and their spouse. One mother, for instance, questioned who she was now that she wasn’t a full-time mom and husbands often wondered if they would be “enough” for their wives now that the kids were gone. Empty nesters also worried about being “bored and lonely” without children in the house, but simultaneously struggled with feeling like they were forced to spend time with their spouse and felt guilty if they wanted to engage in independent activities.

Finally, empty nesters had concerns about their relationship. Couples wondered if they would return to their “original” relationship or if they would even stay together, one spouse noted “I wondered would we stay together, would the relationship be stronger?”

Mikucki-Enyart, S. Sadness and Joy: Managing the Transition to an Empty Nest. Retrieved from