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Steps to Recovery for Empty Nester Syndrome

By Sheryl Kloehr

Is there an actual remedy to soothe the aching heart of a mother after the ‘good bye’, the last embrace (if your kids allow hugs 😊 ☹), and the last words in person as your child launches in to their new lives without you in their daily mess… I mean life? Ugh. Some of you will tilt your head in wonderment of why I sound so ‘emotional’. Others of you are nodding your head strongly in full agreement and may even be tearing up as you miss your son or daughter. During transitions, don’t we all want to show ourselves strong to our adult children and not be too emotional in front of them (happy or sad) so they don’t think or say, “oh mother, seriously?!” Then again, might they think later how glad they are that we cared enough to show we love them and want the best for their new chapter in life? I say… be authentic and allow them to see that tender side of you, letting them recognize being genuine is a good thing. On a positive note, we have the privilege of cheering them on and praying through for their life’s new challenges!

No matter what stage you are in… veteran, newbie or preparing for the title of “EMPTY NESTER”, you will discover you are NOT ALONE. Matter of fact, Congratulations! Hopefully, you feel you received ‘high honors’ in raising your sons and/or daughters and can enjoy reminiscing about… wait for it… {drum roll please} “THE GOOD OLE’ DAYS”. Ugh. When did someone thrust me into THAT category?! That sounds old! Who keeps pushing me in to this uncomfortable place I did not ask for? Can I say, “STOP! I change my mind!”? No? Okay, so then how do we gracefully walk into new schedules, new routines, and lifestyles?

How do we walk through adult children leaving the nest courageously and respectfully? Have you ever experienced a flood of feelings that suddenly come up when you see their picture, listen to ‘their music’, or hear their voice on a video recording? You may have to talk yourself into being strong and maintaining control to avoid the floodgates opening wide to the ‘ugly cry – it’s NOT pretty so it seems better to be distracted in order to avoid the buckets of tears. Okay so that’s a little overboard, however, those unexpected moments come up and I do believe they get better and easier when we learn to ride the waves well (taken from a conversation with counselor Cindy Palen, NCC on our YouTube channel: “Mental Health Strategies During Quarantine” at the beginning of the shift in our relationship/s.

From my personal reflections and observing those who have gone before me, I’ve used the following ideas to guide me in avoiding being stuck in an emotional pool of sadness. I instead have made the choice to celebrate what was, what is and what is yet to come. I’d love to hear your suggestions to add to this list plus get your thoughts on how these ideas can help you and fellow empty nesters! Hopefully, we all come out strengthened and learn how to navigate well in our ‘new normal’ with each child. As fellow girlfriends, we can share in one another’s great moments and feel in the heartaches. We can also help lovingly remind each other that our great Comforter (John 15:26 Advocate, Encourager, Counselor) and Helper (Romans 8:26 “Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness.”) knows how to nourish our souls and draw us to a place of peace and hope.


1. Recognize change is coming to prepare our heart and attitude. We know the day will eventually come. For some, it cannot be soon enough. And for others, we may want to avoid thinking about the dreadful day when we no longer hear their footsteps, see their piles of dirty laundry, pick them up from practice, sit through another sporting event, attend a recital or competition, sign up for parent volunteering for school activities and snacks. Remember when the list seemed endless?! Yet don’t we miss participating in some or all of these activities? I’m guessing some of you are like me and there were a few things you simply wanted to “get ‘err done” with the best attitude as possible. Now that I’m on the other side of all those events, there’s the happy/sad memories that make the empty nest change feel even harder. On one hand, I’m happy for the new job and adventures that await my son/s, yet on the other side, I also know those new experiences they have will not be spoken about in the detail I once heard.

How do we flow with change? I’m reminded of the passage where Peter tells us “to cast your cares on the Lord” (1 Peter 5:7). One translation uses ‘anxiety’ or ‘worry’. Can I really talk openly about what I’m experiencing with God? Do I think He will understand and help me through the emotions I’m feeling? The answer is yes, a big YES! When we recognize that our Heavenly Father chose to give His only Son for us to pay the debt for our sins and to re-establish a personal relationship with us, then we can be assured; One, He wants us to trust Him with our cares; two, He wants to guide us through the hard times like these.

Change is a Comin’, but God is present (John 14:16-17) to help us.

“My heart has heard you say, “Come and talk with me.” And my heart responds, “Lord, I am coming.” Psalm 27:8

2. Be grateful for the past and present. We’ve all seen many social media posts on thankfulness and “choose joy”. I can hear my mother’s voice telling me to “have an attitude of gratitude”. If you had a good experience raising your son/s and/or daughter/s, then it can be fairly easy to express and thank God for each moment shared together. Even in the most difficult of times, we can hopefully see God teaching us something valuable that can help prepare our adult children to be independent, wise with decision-making and confident as they rely on learned skills and trust in God.

Who knows, they may be watching how we transition – what a motivator to express words of appreciation and gratefulness of the past, present and what’s ahead for them. In my pause to reflect on the good things, I’m using a Gratitude Journal and a planner to create a routine of positive things to be grateful for.

“The Lord is my strength and shield. I trust him with all my heart. He helps me, and my heart is filled with joy. I burst out in songs of thanksgiving.” Psalms 28:7

I call it a ‘highlight reel’ where I focus on past and current things to be grateful for. Even the smallest thing can be a good place to start. When our hearts, mouths, and attitude flow in gratitude, we can help be an example to our kids and husband or our fellow sisterhood. It’s not to boast on how great life has been but share in a humble manner that can help each of us join in to express similar highlights of good moments. And frankly, who wouldn’t prefer to be around a positive, uplifting person vs. a demanding, sad, grouchy one?! It sets the tone of the atmosphere around us… one that our adult children will want to continue to be around when they can. Ultimately it causes us to be more grateful when we get the chance to connect and do things with our grown-up children. The relationship can evolve into a special friendship that enriches each of us.

3. No fear. Trust God. As our children move out of the house and into their own place, we can be flooded with endless thoughts. It’s okay to consider sharing our list of “What you Need to Know When” tips to help smooth out a few bumps along the way. Keep in mind our motives… do we operate from a place of fear or trust that we taught them well and it’s time to entrust them into God’s hands? Our words can sometimes be misinterpreted as doubting their capabilities. To avoid this, we can choose to be still, pray and give them space to grow and learn. My friend Carrie speaks well of trusting God with our kids in this video:

“It’s not Always Easy to Trust God with Our Kids”:

4. Anticipate good. Extend grace. As each adult child branches out of our homes, keeping an optimistic outlook and speaking positive is helpful. No matter what reason they are leaving (sadly for some, it may be prison or rehab, yet there is always hope for their return to the Lord, freedom from addictions – for our God is the God of miracles!), placing our faith in God and encouraging them in the good decisions they make is monumental. I have friends who have walked through many types of journeys with their children, some heart breaking, yet in it all, we all have needed and received mercy and grace. And when we release them, we can speak life-giving truths to their futures. We can show grace towards them, so they know we are safe to go to when they need us. The following verses can be our prayer over them as they transition.

“ Because we know that this extraordinary day is just ahead, we pray for you all the time—pray that our God will make you fit for what he’s called you to be, pray that he’ll fill your good ideas and acts of faith with his own energy so that it all amounts to something. If your life honors the name of Jesus, he will honor you. Grace is behind and through all of this, our God giving himself freely, the Master, Jesus Christ, giving himself freely.” 2 Thessalonians 2:11-12 MSG

5. Pray into their future. The power of prayer cannot be understated. When we lean into God and speak His promises over our children, we are a part of the atmosphere changing on their behalf. When I was looking up verses to include in this article, I opened up a book my mother gave me regarding praying over my children. She wrote these special words: “Sheryl – you may find yourself struggling in some areas of motherhood, but ONE thing you can always be guilty of – being a praying mother! – Your Mom” WOW! I want to be guilty of prayer! And the fact that God says that His word will not return void but will accomplish what He plans and purposes (Isaiah 55:11 KJV), then yes God, prompt me to stay in an attitude of prayer!

“The mind of man plans his way, But the LORD directs his steps.” Proverbs 16:9 NASB

6. Celebrate them. Celebrate with them. This new season your sons and daughters are walking in to is exciting and new. Potentially there may be some underlying anxiety as they approach the day (even if they don’t show it) when they leave home to start their career or leave to attend college. Whatever brings each of us the empty nest, these moments are important to the ways in which we can support them.

I learned the value of celebrating others through a dear friend. I recorded her short, yet powerful word that teaches us to celebrate other’s successes. (“Choose Joy over Jealousy with Cynthia Murphy”: We may not be included or present to physically celebrate, yet there is value in championing them in the little to big accomplishments. Sending notes, text messages or the old standby – care packages! How much fun is that when you think of them along the way to print something out, buy their favorite candy or some small token of remembrance to show how much we care.

7. Be Ethel the Encourager, not Debbie Downer. Do you know who Ethel Merman is? She is an actress who was known for her powerful singing voice and comedy. Check her out on the web to hear her distinct voice to gain a greater appreciation for “Ethel the Encourager” because that woman brought energy and joy into the room. I have a friend whom we like to laugh and impersonate people together -- Jennifer can not only belt out Ethel so well but her energy and joy fills the room! She keeps a smile on my face and refreshes my soul when I need it most. Don’t we all need that release of laughter and joy to regroup from a stress-filled day or faced with great challenges? Knowing how that makes us feel, imagine how great it is to be the voice in your child’s mind that brings hope in the middle of difficult or maybe even lonely times. When we speak encouragement and faith-filled words into their thinking, we set them up for the potential of success, joy and peace.

I would add that if you can make the effort to find Scriptures that enhance your affirmation, you are offering life-giving tools to help them thrive and even overcome life’s challenges through Christ. And lastly, consider… do I want to be known as the up lifter they want to go to or the doubter they don’t want to keep in touch with? Hmmmm, I know that ultimately, we want them to succeed and tune in to God’s help. We can be a part of praying and directing them back to the Father in the good and tough days. Speaking hope over a critical spirit makes a world of difference. So let’s spur one another on to be the encouragers, the “Ethel’s” for our children and not “Debbie Downer”!


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