10 Feelings to Expect When You Become the Empty Nester

adult child holding packing boxes leaving for college, empty nester

Nothing truly prepares parents for an empty nest. I speak from experience. Friends and family attempted to describe the emotions I might experience when I went from a full-time parent one day, to waving goodbye to my son when he left home for the last time.

After my son moved into his dorm room, and I drove away from the college campus, I realized my purpose as a mother was complete. He was so excited about being on his own for the first time. I, on the other hand, waffled between several emotions as my friends warned me I would. With my official parenting work completed, the reward was bittersweet. The transition from a full house to an empty nest was difficult, but gratefully I was encouraged by the God of all comfort.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction…” (2 Corinthians 1:3)

Because of God's comfort and assurance during my parenting transition, I can share the same comfort with parents watching their babies leave the nest. It is my turn to comfort. As Paul reminds us, “so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” (2 Corinthians 1:4) The emotions you experience as a new empty-nester are as unique as you are. Expect some to be comfortable and others to be uncomfortable.

Here are 10 emotions to expect when you become an empty nester.

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  • mom being comforted by adult son, empty nester

    1. Anxiety


    Being concerned about the welfare of our children is normal. When they are at home, our children remain under our watchful eye and protection. When they first leave home, move miles away, and are out of sight, our anxiety soars. Will they be safe? Will they remember the lessons they learned? Will they make good decisions?

    When anxiety rises, remember who has power and authority over all things. Remember who has complete control over our lives and the lives of our children. Paul urges his Philippian friends, “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6).

    2. Grief

    When our sons and daughters leave home and start their lives, we naturally grieve for the life that was. We miss the milestone moments of childhood, the growth and accomplishments of their youth, and we yearn for the past—or at least for the time to slow.

    God understands that pain and longing. He knows our hearts are heavy when our children grow up and go away, and He gives us the strength to persevere. He is all we need.

    “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever”. (Psalm 73:26)

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  • elderly woman looking worried alone, empty nester

    3. Loneliness


    A hole is left when our children grow up and leave home. It is an empty place where we once felt purpose. I remember returning home after leaving my youngest son at college, walking in our house, and being overwhelmed by the silence. For days I felt alone, unsure of my purpose, and I was aware of my aloneness. But we are not alone. God is always with us--when we are full of purpose, and when we need purpose. Give yourself time to feel the fullness of His presence and find your new purpose. Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:10)

    4. Assurance

    As the daughters and sons of God, we know that every circumstance and situation of our lives is created by God. That includes the painful circumstance of watching our children leave home. Through God's promise, we have the assurance that He will use even the initially unpleasant moment of an empty nest for good. That does not mean for fortune or fame, but for His glory. We are assured that this moment is for our good and His glory.

    “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

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  • mom and adult daughter, empty nester

    5. Proud


    There is a big difference between being prideful and proud of our sons and daughters. Pride is turned inward and glorifies self. Being proud of our children is turned toward those we love. We have no other response to the satisfaction that comes when we watch them walk into adulthood. 

    It is tough to feel anything but pride when we see our children follow Jesus and seek a relationship with God. Just as God was pleased with Jesus at his baptism, we are proud of our children, and we should tell them so. "I am proud of you," equates to "I love you.”

    “I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth.” (3 John 1:4)

    6. Excitement

    Moving into an empty nest has so many possibilities. This is uncharted territory, and exciting days are ahead. God has wonderful plans for the next season of your life. Open yourself up to the possibilities. Now is a great time to join in activities, ministries, and service that you might have felt were too overwhelming in the past. Plus, you have great wisdom and insight to offer young mothers who will face the same season in the future. Show them how God uses mothers at every stage in life for His glory.

    “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

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  • mom looking happy with daughters, empty nester

    7. Gratefulness


    At first, when my youngest son left for college, I was sad. It was the first time in three decades no children were living in my home. Then I remembered God's faithfulness. I am grateful for God's mercy and grace that made me a good mother to my sons, even when I failed miserably. I am thankful for the Lord's wisdom and strength to get through the terrible twos and the dramatic teen years. Gratitude is the only response to the parenting example presented by Our Heavenly Father. What are you thankful for as a parent of adult children? How did God's faithfulness help you be a better parent?

    “Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon his name; make known his deeds among the peoples!” (Psalm 105:1)

    8. Peace

    Peace is not being at odds with God. Peace comes when we understand that when the time comes for our children to move on and create a new life, that God has a perfect plan and is in control. Our hearts want to keep our children close, but peace happens when we realize they are a gift to love and watch over for a time.

    Then, the time comes for us to trust God with His plan for our children. Our hearts need not be troubled or afraid.

    “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27)

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  • senior couple waving into laptop, empty nester

    9. Challenged


    Our children will face many challenges in their new lives, and so will we. Prepare to be challenged by the changing roles and expectations. Prepare for missteps and misunderstandings, and be ready for the great rewards of a new relationship with your children.

    Give as much grace as you need to receive, and remember change takes time. Depend on God to provide wisdom and understanding as you get comfortable in your new nest.

    “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:6-7)

    10. Acceptance

    As hard as it is to watch our children grow up and move away, it is God's plan for our children and us. Being a parent means giving your sons and daughters the love, care, and training to go out into the world and be productive, contributing grown-ups. Proverbs 22:6 explains our job, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old, he will not depart from it.” So, when the time comes for our children to walk on their own, we can accept their new independence and know that they are prepared for the future.

    “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

    If you have experienced the ache of watching your last child walk into adulthood and leave home, then you are familiar with these emotions. If that time has not yet arrived, be encouraged. God has an excellent plan for your children and for you. The God of all comfort is waiting to comfort you, and us mothers who have tread this path before will be waiting to encourage you as well.

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