Empty Nest

Parent Q&A

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  • Empty Nest Ahead

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    Did some searching on the site for threads on empty nesting and didn’t find any recent posts. Looking at the emptying nest on the near horizon myself and thought starting a casual support group or supper club might resonate with others on this site. Any takers? 

    No responses received.

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Looking for empty nest book recommendations for helicopter mom

Sept 2015

I'm hoping some parents might recommend a book or two for my sister whose only daughter is going off to college across the country this fall. My sister is an extreme helicopter mom, and I'm worried that she won't have anything to fill the void. She works in a demanding job, but doesn't have many friends or interests outside of her daughter. Both her and her husband are very devoted parents and her daughter has never rebelled from this parenting style. She used to have interest in college, but has focused almost exclusively on her job, daughter's interests and needs. She is also fairly reserved and it is hard for her to talk about difficult issues.

On the good side, my niece is an awesome young woman, outgoing, well adjusted and ready for college and my sister is thrilled that she got into the school of her dreams and is very supportive of her going away. They also have plenty of money to visit often and fly her back to CA when she can visit.

I'm just worried she wont know how to respond to this new & difficult situation. Thanks. Annie

I was referred to this book some years back. I never read much of it but I think many, including a new empty nester friend, have found it helpful:

Letting Go: A Parents' Guide to Understanding the College Years by Karen Levin Coburn (Author), Madge Lawrence Treeger

empty nester also

Empty Nest Sadness

Sept 2015

Our younger child just went off to college and I have been feeling sad. I admit this sadness reminds me of a bigger type of loss from long ago. I know it is best for our kids for them to be off on their own doing what they are doing. Any one share this experience and have anything to say about it? anon


I had a similar experience when my last left the nest. I knew my reaction was ''over the top'' and I finally summoned up all my courage to deal with an old loss. If you would like the help of a counselor/therapist who specializes in helping with grief/loss I can highly recommend Joan Monheit or Harold Lunche. They are both in Berkeley.

I know how difficult coping with your ''empty nest'' might be right now, but can assure you that for me it was the catalyst for much positive change. I hope it can be the same for you.

If talking to someone who went thru this might help, please contact the moderator for my email. been there

Oh I could talk about this and listen to other moms talk about this and then talk some more. I totally resonate with your sadness. We love our kids at such a cellular level and crossing this bridge separating childhood from adulthood is such a bittersweet passage.

Our daughter is completing her final semester of college and our son just began school two weeks ago. Both of my two kids are on the East Coast. It's interesting, I talk to my daughter just about every day, and we are both quite happy with that arrangement. When I called my son this week, he said, ''mom, I'm in college now. You don't think we're going to be talking every day, do you?'', which caught me a bit by surprise as actually I was thinking, yes, I'd love to hear your voice every day.

I'm lucky enough to still have my dad in the picture, and when I related this to him this morning, he reminded me that we are only capable of so much attachment in our lives at any given time, and if my son remains as attached to me as he's been, it will take up too much of his ''bandwidth'' to form the meaningful connections that are appropriate now in his life. This gave me great pause. It is time for me to take a loving step back from my son. I'm responsible now for my own happiness, my own fulfillment and validation, and I need to find new ways to be nourished beyond my identity as a loving mom to my two phenomenal children. Yes, it's sad, but it's also a good, healthy, accomplished kind of sadness. Wishing you a meaningful next chapter

I probably know how you feel, and I'm sorry to say that all the sadness doesn't necessarily go away. In certain ways, you really have lost your child; it's also the end of an important part of your life. HOWEVER--the empty feeling does dissolve. Now I'm proud of my 26-year-old's strength and intelligence and of the fact that she calls every week and wants me to know all about her various exploits.

Many people will probably tell you to take up a new interest, etc., and that's fine later on. But I'd just give myself permission to feel lousy for a while. Keep up a brave front with your child, but other than that, cry when you need to and baby yourself a bit. Talk to friends whose kids have gone off. That helps a lot.

Your child has done the right thing. It's the parents whose kids can't or won't launch who might have something to worry about. Still Sad and Alright With It

I suggest you take up a new hobby or get more involved with one you already have. Start a volunteer activity. Spend more time with friends. Get together with other parents in the same position. Anon

Moving to a cheaper area now that kids are gone

Nov 2012

Hello, We are soon having an empty nest, trying to adapt to the new life, we thought it may be good idea to move to another area cheaper and newer home than ours in Albany. We are thinking of moving in Pinole, concord, San Leandro or Emeryville. I do not adapt to change easily, our dog just passed away so I work from home now all day alone, we are looking for safe walking area during the day where we can come to Berkeley for a breath if needed. Any experience regarding these areas safety, structure and activities. Thank you Fafy

The Richmond Hills neighborhood of Richmond is quite nice and property taxes are low. The neighborhood backs up against Wildcat Canyon Park (northern extension of Tilden) and Berkeley is 15 minutes away along the Arlington. -Nearby in El Cerrito Hills

Our (only) son went off to OSU (Oregon)3 years ago. We live in Benicia, and moved here for the great schools. I find, though, that it is a great place for us empty nesters, too. It's definitely cheaper than Berkeley, safe, quiet, but with a great ''old town'' downtown.

The community often has little events that are great for meeting new people. We just made new friends sitting on the sidewalk, sipping an adult beverage with our dogs at our feet. (Great Pyrenees and Newfoundland; excellent conversation starters in their own right)

Benicia has lots of open space, a state park on the water, and plenty of places to hike.

Get some big dogs and move to Benicia! happy empty nesters

Adjusting to Empty Nest

Nov 2012

Dear Friends, We have just (well, as in late August) launched our eldest off to college - she has landed successfully at a small, liberal arts school in northwestern Pennsylvania, very far from home here in Berkeley. While I am deeply glad, relieved, fulfilled that she made her way through high school and has transitioned successfully to her freshman year in university, I find myself here at home, bereft at times, really missing her. We have always been very close, share lots of interests (theatre, Sunday farmer's market, cooking, etc), and I miss hanging out with her. Our son is still at home and in his junior year in high school and I am already bracing myself for his departure. It's not that I'm sitting around in a puddle of unhappiness or need to go back to therary, but I certainly miss my daughter and expect I will really miss my son when the time comes. Here's the question: I have enjoyed a real sense of purposefulness raising my kids, and now I am a bit lost without that, and could use some insight as to how to find my way to the next, productive chapter of life. My husband is empathetic but just doesn't seem to have these same issues. I have a small but meaningful social life but spend a lot of time alone as my son is studying, my husband is working, and I'm just on my own at home with my little hobbies and part-time job. I need a toe hold on something bigger but can't figure out what comes next, and don't want to impose on my daughter as she creates her newfound life away from home. Easing into next chapter

Hi-- You're definitely not alone! Both of my kids are launched and not living here anymore-- one's a mature, independent college freshman, the other is graduated and employed-- and it does feel odd. I keep having to balance how much I miss them with reminders that they are out making their own lives now. They're supposed to! If you have time, why not explore something you've always wanted to do? Take a class, start a business, or volunteer in public schools with the Writer Coach Connection? This is the second or third act of your life, and your talents will be appreciated many places. There are many inspiring stories out there (see More magazine). The book ''What Should I Do with My Life?'' says that it takes time to make these transitions. All the best.

It is a bittersweet transition. I finished a graduate degree a year ago, when my daughter went off to college and now I'm looking for a job. I'm volunteering and just finished a post-grad course. I also belong to an Empty Nest group. In addition, I'm spending more time with my own mother, who lives on the East Coast.

Our Empty Nests give us the opportunity to reassess our lives, revisit wishes that we've put on hold (e.g., to travel or go back to school) and allow us to nurture others, now that our kids are gone.

Think about doing one or more of the following:

- Volunteer in a school, library or nursing home.
- Take a class or go back to college for a degree.
- Travel.
- Visit relatives or long-lost friends.
- Renovate, redecorate or paint your home.
- Take up a new hobby.
- Learn a new language or start music lessons.
- Rediscover your loving connection with your husband by having intimate dinners, going out to movies, taking day trips, etc.

Finally, join an Empty Nest group or start one yourself. It's good support to talk to others who are in the same boat.

Good luck! Empty Nester

I can relate. With my daughter in her first year of college and with me relocating to Berkeley and in a new relationship, I was certainly at a very loose end and, like you, needed ''a toe hold on something bigger''. My previous professional background was working with kids, and when I saw an ad looking for volunteers to train to be parent counselors on a family support telephone hotline, I thought I would try it. I applied for an unpaid counselor position at Parental Stress Service, now called Family Paths. It changed my life and gave me a new and very satisfying career path. They still provide this free service and while I was working on the line, they expanded it to include foster parents also. The service is a 24-hour a day, 7-day a week hotline which parents can call anonymously and get support around stressful feelings or issues they are experiencing with their kids or partners, and they offer ongoing call back support to parents, so I felt as if I was helping individual families working through hard times. The volunteer counselors utilize basic counseling skills learned in their Pre-Service training, and each volunteer signs up for one 4-hour shift per week (between 9am and 9pm) for a one-year commitment.

The training I had was incredibly good, spread over two weekends. In between those two intensive training weekends, you go for a 4-hour observation shift, which allows you to be in the hotline room and get a chance to see the hotline volunteers in action. Once I was accepted on the hotline, I was supervised and mentored at every stage, and I worked with other ordinary folk who wanted to volunteer, and also with MFT interns and Social Worker trainees. As I gained experience, I eventually progessed to a (paid) position on their overnight service and worked from home. I learned so much from the staff and the other super volunteers there, I quickly knew I wanted to make a career in this field, which I successfully have done.

The work isn't for everyone, and their screening process is designed to pick people who can be taught how to effectively and non-judgementally counsel parents, some of whom are in real distress. But I learned such a lot there that it made me sign up for their parenting class to make me a better and more effective parent to my second daughter. That class too was superb.

Family Paths isn't the only organization who do this work. There are similar organizations in San Francisco and Contra Costa counties also, but this was right on my doorstep in downtown Oakland.

Good luck in your search for a new career. - Grateful -

Hi... I just noticed your message about dealing with being an Empty Nester. I started an Empty Nest Group about four months ago. We are now about 6 women who meet approximtately once a month to have dinner, talk about our situations, enjoy friendship. Let me know if you'd be interested in joining us. Lexine

I just wanted to say that I really object to the term ''empty nest.'' I recognize that it is a new stage of life (one that I will be entering in about 9 mos!), and I don't have a better name for it (yet--suggestions welcome). But I feel like it is important to reframe this life stage. My nest won't be empty! I'm still in it! You get the idea. We are not our children, even though they may be a huge part of us. So in response to how to adjust, I would recommend focusing on who/what is present, rather than who/what is absent. (I realize that it's much easier for me to say this now than to do it myself when the time comes, but that's my plan). best wishes to all who are in this transition

Nest empty except for their dog, and I'm not a fan

Nov 2012

My children are in college, and their dog remains with me. Truth is, they never took on the responsibility of caring for the dog who is now 10 years old. It's unlikely their dog will live long enough to see the day that one of my kids would take over its care, if that unlikely event ever were to occur. And I am not a big fan of the dog, though he is totally attached to me. He's a ''satin pillow'' pure bred lap dog. It occurs to me that someone would love this dog. Would it be just awful to give the kids' dog away. Would you do it? keep breathing

I think it would be a mistake to re-home this dog for a variety of reasons. It sounds like you are most concerned with how your kids would react and from that point of view I think it would feel like a betrayal. I know they really didn't take care of the dog - kids rarely do. But your dog is part of what they consider ''home'' and that concept is still important to them. It is a delicate time for everyone. You would be giving away a member of your family. I strongly vote - no! Maria

I feel so sorry for your dog that he is attached to you but you not to him. Too bad you didn't find a home that would love and appreciate this dog years ago. At this stage in his life, I think that you have a moral and ethical obligation to continue to care for him. If you're physically or financially unable to care for him, please find someone you trust who can, but please please please do NOT surrender your dog to a shelter - after years in a home, he will not adapt well to shelter life and will suffer as a result. I volunteer at a shelter and the staff and volunteers work very hard to do their best to take care of all of the cats and dogs there, but these animals obviously do not receive all the attention, affection, exercise and care that they need and deserve.

Please try hard to love this loyal dog you have, and give him a good life in his sunset years. animal lover

1. Often the dog is ''the kids'' but a parent takes care of it. You are not alone. If it is the kids' dog, you need to discuss it with them, or have them forever remember how they left home and you ''got rid of their dog''.

2. Often when college students are in second to third year they may live off campus and be able to take the dog. I had plenty of college roommates with pets. I had a cat that lived to 15. Was a kitten when we got it in college.

3. At ten years old, unless you can find a really great situation, it is not a great idea to give away a dog. They almost never are adopted at the shelters. A few live a long time, but most are winding down, and if as you say he adores you, it could literally break his heart. How hard is it to take care of the dog for a few more years? When the kids come home from breaks, make sure they do all the dog chores. You may not realize it, but medical science says companion dogs help lower our blood pressure, lessen the chances of depression, and make us exercise. Lots of health benefits. taking care of my daughter's dog

I'm in your situation, only my furry kid is a very large, very noisy, not very bright cat, who loves me and follows me around. It's quite unlikely our daughter will assume responsibility again, but she would be horrified if I took him to a shelter, even a no-kill one, and I wouldn't do this, although I'd consider letting him be adopted by a friend or relative.

Assuming that the dog in question is in good health, housebroken, and has a nice disposition, I don't think it would be wrong to ask around your circle of family and friends and see if someone would like to give her a new home. Stuck with Child's Cat

Emptying nest support

August 2011

My firstborn is off to college in 3 weeks. While I have 3 more years with my younger daughter, I'm finding this to be a very challenging process. The most recent support referrals on the website are from Feb 2009 so looking for current resources - peer support or professional. Thanks. mc

There is a support group for moms that meets in Albany one Saturday a month for moms whose kids have gone off to college. The group is facilitated by Ms. Toni Littlestone. Contact her at workvision [at] aol.com for more information. mom of college sophomore

Support group for empty nesters?

Feb 2009

Hi, I'm missing my son, my only child, who is away at college. I'm still adjusting and feeling lonely. I seem to remember reading a posting from someone who was organzing a group for empty nesters--but I can't find the reference. Does any one know of such a group? anon

Hi--I am the person who has started the Off-to-College Support Group. We have had two great meetings and would love to have you join our group, which meets monthly at my home in Albany. Give me a call at 510.528.2221 or email me at workvision [at] aol.com for more information and to find out about the next meeting. Toni Littlestone

The group is at a house in Albany, and the next meeting is Feb 28. I'm sure you would be welcome. Email me and I'll give you details of the hostess's phone so you can call and check with her personally. Linda F

There is a group for empty nester moms. The next meeting is in late Feb. Contact workvision [at] aol.com for more info. good luck. S.

Feeling abandoned after only kid left for school

Jan 2008

It's the same-old-same-old: my only kid (female) went off to college last September in Britain, and, ironically, now that she's coming ''home'' for the holidays, I am feeling abandoned, especially when I try to figure out the best deal on a round-trip ticket for her, and she tells me, ''Mom, don't you understand that California isn't my home base anymore?'' Well, I realize that, but it still hurts to hear. I also realize that she has to separate and that she still loves me. Any ideas, comforting thoughts, preferably from those who have experienced this sort of separation anxiety?

Yep, this hurts, doesn't it? I have two junior girls, one in college, one in high school. The oldest one started to do this her second semester of high school - pull away, and not too subtly. I swear that this is a natural progression - the kid becomes so hateful that the parent actually CAN'T WAIT for them to leave (as opposed to getting closer and then have the parting be too traumatic for both!) Her first summer back from college was a nightmare for both of us (and all this with no drug, alcohol or boyfriend issues at all - just friends - all good kids, every one of them - and curfew issues on top of my menopausal sleep and cranky issues). I told her that the next summer she couldn't stay here unless things changed - and she got a camp counselor job an hour away. Now she's home for the holidays and I think we may have turned the corner. I put out my minimal needs for family time and her sister (who worships her) does the same - and she seems genuinely happy to be out and about (or just home) with us at those times - then out with her friends for what I consider an ''appropriate'' amount of time. I know that this came as a real shock to me, as we had pretty much avoided all typical adolescent issues previously, and I had kind of assumed that we would be dealing ''adult to adult'' after high school - but here's to say that, NO, you're just on to a different stage in dealing with adolescent separation - but this too shall pass and hopefully someday . . . adult to adult??? me too

Youngest child just left

November 2004

Are there any empty-nesters out there who can give me some advice? I'm a single mom and my youngest child just left this fall for college. I find myself mindlessly watching TV and playing computer solitaire. What do others do at home in the evenings in the empty nest? I don't necessarily want to fill my evenings with outside activities. Take up knitting?

Dear Mom of child who just left for college:
I went through this 2 yrs. ago when my son, my oldest left for college. My younger daughter had to go to her dad's for High Holidays that year and I was alone at that time of year for the first time since my son was born in 1984. I was so sad and lonely, I didn't know what to do. All I can say is, this too shall pass. Like w/ everything else, time helps heal the loneliness and sadness. If you don't want to do outside activities (I didn't either), just read, do your work, try and get together w/ your friends, garden or buy flowers, treat yourself to something, and just experience the lonliness, don't try to make it go away. I hope your child comes home for holidays. It is easier for me know although I still miss him and look forward to his visits, however infrequent. I do have my daughter still at home, every other wk end she goes to her dad's which after 8 yrs. I still hate. But this is my life and I just try not to feel sorry for myself and just love my children and do the best I can. It's not easy, I know. All the best to you. Susan

Two thoughts regarding your question about what to do when the youngest goes to college: You may want to mourn a wee bit for the piece of your job that you're losing.... and for a few weeks vegging out isn't such a bad way to do it.

When you're ready, I'd recommend a trip to New Pieces, on Solano Avenue. New Pieces is a fabric and quilting store, and a wonderful resource for the large community of quilters and doll makers in this area. There is even a group that makes simple quilts for sick kids, as a community service.

If interested you can take a basic class in quilting. If you need an excuse for a new project, I'd recommend making a lap quilt for your ''baby'' to take back to school 2nd semester, to study under... the process of sewing and quilting is wonderful, the women you meet this way are wonderful, and the time you would spend worrying or wondering about your kids becomes something productive you do with your hands. Good luck, and enjoy your time -- you've EARNED it! Heather

You ask, ''what to do, take up knitting?'' Why not take up knitting! You will keep your mind busy, learn a new skill, and satisfy your artistic soul all the while surrounding yourself (if you wish) with wonderful, supportive fellow knitters. Most local yarn stores have reasonably priced classes where you can learn the basics, and then you can go on to join a workshop or drop by any number of ''stitch and bitch'' gatherings held all over the place - just ask one of your fellow classmates who seems to be a kindred soul which gathering they like. If you prefer to stay at home, knitting takes most of the guilt out of watching TV, and your local yarn store can provide technical support when you need it. Here are just 3 local options among many: Skein Lane in El Cerrito across from Fat Apples, Article Pract on Telegraph at 51st, and The Knitting Basket in Montclair. Have fun.