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Nurses Experience Empty Nests Too

Nurses Article   (872 Views 2 Replies 925 Words)
by J.Adderton J.Adderton, MSN (Member) Writer Innovator Expert

J.Adderton has 20 years experience as a MSN .

7 Followers; 69 Articles; 28,680 Profile Views; 296 Posts

The shift in identity and role is undeniable when our children leave home.  And, it is not like we don’t experience enough stress and anxiety in our care of patients.  The loss and grief that comes with an empty nest is a challenge and can be overwhelming.  Even for nurses.

Nurses Experience Empty Nests Too

Recently, I mulled over a nursing diagnosis for myself based on Erickson’s stages of psychosocial development.  What led me to revisit generativity versus stagnation?  My daughter, an only child, spread her inexperienced wings and flew my protective coop.  I think I have experienced every human emotion while trying to adapt to this next phase of my life...the empty nest (cue tear drops).  

I have become increasingly aware that the stress of nursing does not ease up just because I am working through something difficult.  Nursing also doesn’t take it “easy on me” just because the risk of depression is already heightened by the work demands of our chosen profession.  In my daily routine of taking care of others, I came to realize nurses experience the highs and lows of empty nests too.

Challenges of the Empty Nest

A huge part of our identity is wrapped up in the role of “mother” or “father” when raising our children.  So, when the last child leaves home we are often left with a profound sense of loss.  Yes, our homes do feel emptier but it is our identities that are greatly impacted.

Relief and Grief

When my daughter left home, I felt a sense of relief that I had done my job.  We want our children to be able to confidently go into the world and build independent lives of their own.  However, our experience is bittersweet because we may be left with a sense of loss, loneliness and sadness.  Grief is a natural, and sometimes  unexpected, response to this life transition.

Empty Nest Syndrome

Empty nest syndrome isn’t a clinical diagnosis.  Instead, it is the phenomenon of experiencing these feelings of sadness and loss when the last child leaves home.  Let’s look at other associated feelings.

Frustrating Lack of Control

I admit it.  I liked having a say in my child’s day to day activities.  Where she went, who she went with, how she went and how much she spent was somewhat under my guiding and watchful eye.  Now, I often feel frustration because I am having to relinquish control. I don’t have the “inside scoop” on the details of her daily life and have to learn how to let go so she can be in control.

Self-Identity and Loss of Purpose

When children leave or move out, we sometimes feel as if our primary purpose in life left with the child. The last 20 years or more have been spent raising children and our self-identity may be tied into the role of parent. Since personal goals, hobbies and friendships may have been put aside while parenting, it is not uncommon to experience a loss in our sense of purpose.

Strategies for Redefining Ourselves

Adjusting to an empty nest is not as easy as “just getting used to it”. It is important to replace the loss in a meaningful way.  Here are a few basic strategies for redefining ourselves when experiencing an empty nest.

  1. Identify ways your life roles and self-identity has been changed by a child leaving home.  Also, consider how your day-to-day life and relationships have been altered.
  2. Make a list of the roles you play in life outside of your parenting role.  Think about roles that require a significant investment of your time and energy, for example: spouse, sister or brother, daughter or son, friend, member (association, community or team), employee or profession and any other life roles you may have.  Think about how you would like to build your other relationships.
  3. Create a list of new interests or hobbies you would like to explore or renew. This may be difficult at first because your children’s activities may have been your primary interests.
  4. It may not seem natural at first, but go ahead and get some things down on the calendar.  Getting involved in other activities will help ease feelings of loss and emptiness.

When to Seek Help

Empty nest syndrome is not a clinical diagnosis, but it is a real condition and may require outside help.  Common symptoms that may be experienced include:

  • Increased sadness
  • Feeling stressed and easily aggravated
  • Crying easily
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Excessive worrying
  • Changes in weight
  • Avoiding social activities

Any of these symptoms can be overwhelming and lead to depression.  If these issues are preventing you from being active or coping with daily life, it is time to seek professional help. Therapists and counselors can evaluate you for depression and provide coping strategies


My daughter left for college three years ago and returned home. Oh, how easily I slipped back into “mom role” and it felt comfortable- like a big comfy sweatshirt.  After a few months, she traveled across the country 2,586 miles to be exact, to start her life. Sometimes, the empty nest is a revolving door but finding yourself again is a little easier each time.

Have you or are you experiencing an empty nest?  Share your story and tips for coping.

Empty Nest Syndrome: Pros, Cons and Solutions

Is Empty Nest a Myth?

An Empty Nest Opens New Doors

J.Adderton is a fluctuating empty nester with 25 years of nursing experience. Enjoys writing about what she encounters and experiences in her own nursing practice.

7 Followers; 69 Articles; 28,680 Profile Views; 296 Posts

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traumaRUs has 27 years experience as a MSN, APRN and specializes in Nephrology, Cardiology, ER, ICU.

15 Followers; 153 Articles; 20,874 Posts; 188,396 Profile Views

Great article. 

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