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Empty Nests and Other Challenges for Parents of Young Adults

Behaviour, General | January 20, 2017 | Author: Naturopath


Empty Nests and Other Challenges for Parents of Young Adults

Parents will always worry about their children, no matter the age, but as kids reach young adulthood new fears can arise from the expectation that they will leave the home. Different cultures have different norms when it comes to children moving out of their parents’ dwellings (Mitchell & Wister, 2015).

In much of Western society it is common for people to leave the home in their late teens to early 20s. However, recent years have brought increases in living expenses virtually across the globe, resulting in a large number of people having to live at home until their 30s or even older.

Whether your child is leaving home or sticking around, you can expect to experience some conflicting emotions. You will worry you can’t protect them if they move away, but you also want them to establish independence and continue development to adulthood.

How to Cope When the Kids Want to Fly the Coop

The emotional turmoil associated with your children moving out of the house is often referred to as “empty nest syndrome”. These intense feelings are completely normal (Raup & Myers, 1989).

Even as an expected part of parenthood, experiencing empty nest syndrome can be undeniably difficult to deal with. A number of negative emotions can take hold when the thought of a child moving out becomes a possible reality. Parents may feel angry about being abandoned, afraid of changing the family dynamic, sad due to loneliness or even envious of their child’s impending/newfound freedom. It is normal to temporarily experience any or all of these emotions but they should lessen and eventually disappear as parents get used to the situation.

There are a wide variety of stressors that can trigger or worsen these negative emotions such as:

  • Poor or concerning life choices are made
  • Phone calls are not returned and/or visits are rare
  • Not liking their friends or partner choices
  • When they forget important dates like your birthday
  • Responsibilities being ignored, (for example forgetting to pick up younger family members when asked to do so).

These behaviors are usually happeing when the young adult has recently moved out or is spending a lot of time at their friend's place. This is why they can be so troubling, as parents have little control over a child’s behavior when they no longer live under the same roof.
In truth, this lack of control may be a key underlying influence of negative emotions. It’s literally hard to let go.

Coping with the Empty Nest

There are several coping techniques that may help lessen the negative effects you may be experiencing,  though the appropriateness of each will vary according to individual circumstances:

  • Maintaining communication with children may be easier to accomplish if parents become fluent in newer technologies like e-mail, text and video chat
  • Going back to work or starting a new career
  • Taking up old or new of hobbies or sport activities
  • Focusing on personal health and fitness
  • Focusing on their partner, relationships, friends, etc.

A Crowded Nest Can Be Difficult Too

In this context, a “crowded” or “refilled” nest refers to the circumstances that arise when a young adult stays living at home longer than expected or returns to live at home after living away for a short time. The latter scenario is becoming more common as economies struggle to provide the means for people to afford living away from home (Mitchell, 2016). This is especially visible in the vast number of recent students who have finished their degrees or other advanced training while living away from their parents, only to be forced to live at home once again when they can’t find a good job.

In many cases, having young adults staying at or returning home is a welcome experience because it prevents empty nesting. However, serious problems may arise if the child’s personal development as a young adult is impeded by the situation.

This could happen in multiple ways

  • They want to stay living at home but won't contribute
  • Getting a job or advancing otherwise becomes less of a priority
  • Parents relied upon as caretakers
  • Parents interfere with their daily lives

Maintaining a healthy home that accommodates the development of a young adult can be a difficult task that takes commitment from both children and parents. Of course, parents will always have a unique relationship with their children regardless of age, so a roommate-like arrangement shouldn’t be expected. Keeping everyone happy in a crowded nest can require a balancing act between satisfying parental instincts, enabling independence and maintaining an appropriate level of accountability.

Coping with Nest Crowding

Like empty nesting, certain coping techniques may be useful for families going through crowding:

  • Taking up hobbies outside of the house
  • Encouraging or arranging employment if it is available
  • Including young adults in decisions that impact the entire household

When children reach young adulthood, parents can expect to experience a difficult period of transition related to their living arrangements. Whether the nest is emptying or becoming crowded, emotions can run high and things can get uncomfortable quickly. Aside from the coping techniques discussed above, there are two important considerations that may help improve life in just about any nesting situation:

Have Realistic Expectations

There are a virtually unlimited number of factors that can influence a young adult’s actual ability to move out.

This might include initial financial support (a job, scholarship for school, savings), the availability of alternative housing, state of the economy, personal attributes, etc.

Parents should do their best to evaluate and react to the nesting situation with realistic expectations that are not solely based on parental instincts. Try to “step outside” of the situation.

Be Patient

It may be tempting to “rescue” recently relocated children who appear to be struggling on their own, but if it’s only been a few months then you should put the situation into perspective first. If they aren’t in danger of being homeless or hospitalized, then there’s a chance that you may be overreacting. It takes time to establish a new life, and most parents will remember this if they think of their own beginnings as a young adult.

The same approach should be taken before “kicking” or “pushing” younglings from a crowded nest (Schnaiberg & Goldenberg, 1989). Some people need more time than others to prepare for such a big change, especially in today’s financial reality, so allowing them time to develop at their own pace will help make sure they’re truly ready to fly.

As many parents know, sometimes a little encouragement goes a long way. So above all, remember that if you’ve make it to this phase of parenthood, then you must be doing something right!  Australia’s best online discount chemist


Mitchell, Barbara A. (2016). "Empty Nest." The Wiley Blackwell Encyclopedia of Family Studies.

Mitchell, B. A., & Wister, A. V. (2015). Midlife challenge or welcome departure? Cultural and family-related expectations of empty nest transitions. The International Journal of Aging and Human Development.

Raup, J. L., & Myers, J. E. (1989). The empty nest syndrome: Myth or reality. Journal of Counseling and Development, 68(2), 180-183.

Schnaiberg, A., & Goldenberg, S. (1989). From empty nest to crowded nest: The dynamics of incompletely-launched young adults. Social Problems, 36(3), 251-269.

Settles, B. H., Sheng, X., Zang, Y., & Zhao, J. (2013). The one-child policy and its impact on Chinese families. In International handbook of Chinese families (pp. 627-646). Springer New York.

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