How to Get Your Wings Back as a Single Parent Empty Nester

Doing things solo isn't easy. But anyone can overcome single-parent empty nester challenges with the right tools and support systems.

Updated February 24, 2024
Mother helping daughter pack for college

Being an empty nester is hard enough, but being a single parent empty nester can be even more difficult. Without the built-in support system and distraction that a partner can provide, empty nesting often becomes overwhelming and all-encompassing. But these big feelings won't last forever! Learn how to cope with them and discover some activities you can try to help you move forward. 

How to Cope With the Emotional Toll of Being an Empty Nester 

As a single parent, your relationship with your child probably looks very different than the ones you see modeled with two or more parental figures. Having been only the two of you for many years, it's natural that you'd rely heavily on each other for emotional support, comfort, and camaraderie. Because of this intermingling, you may be more enmeshed with your child, and that can impact how you navigate being an empty nester. 


Grief doesn't just come with the death of something (a person, a dream, etc). Rather, it can stem from any kind of loss — or the threat of one. Given that, it's totally normal for you to experience grief-like symptoms in the coming months or weeks before your child leaves home. Anxious anticipation might also accompany the grief as you gear up to let your child go out into the world on their own. Typical grieving symptoms include crying, feeling on edge, difficulty sleeping, and change in appetite.

Unlike two-parent households where the couple has the chance to connect with someone else over the same experience, you may have a more difficult time explaining the emotional process to friends and family members. They aren't going through it with you, so there's always going to be a barrier between how you're feeling and how they perceive what you're feeling. 


You may experience some depressive symptoms as you start to adjust to your kid being away from home. Common symptoms include changes in appetite, changes in sleep patterns, chronic sad mood, frequent crying, irritability, isolating behaviors, and increased negative thoughts. Looking at your child's empty room, seeing your child's normal hangout spot within the house, and their empty chair at the dinner table might trigger a deep sadness and emotional response. 

Like with any big adjustment, you can't predict how and when these symptoms will hit (if they do). You may experience these symptoms prior to your child leaving, or shortly after. In two-parent households, one partner may notice these symptoms in their partner much earlier than friends or family have the chance to in single-parent homes. This feedback loop of isolation looks like feeling alone because of your kid's absence, removing yourself from social situations because of your feelings, and people not reaching out to give you space to process your feelings, which leads to you feeling more alone. 


woman opening a window

Being an empty nester is a huge transition. Going from a two (or more) person household to a single-person household can feel like a shock to the system and will definitely take some getting used to. You may experience intense loneliness, especially at the beginning of the transition. But rest assured that this usually lessens over time. As with all wounds, they start to ache less as they heal. There may still be moments, even long after the child has left, that bring up these lonely feelings again, but having reached the other side of them before should make them easier to swallow. 

In two-parent households, it may feel like you've got easier access to support, as you've got a partner who lives with you. For some, living alone can feel very isolating and stressful. You may feel like it's harder to get support during this process, especially during the evening when your external support system's gone to bed. 


Feeling anxious leading up to your kid's departure is completely normal. Know that anxiety is the body's way of signaling discomfort. Take time to process the emotions that are coming up. Typical symptoms include excessive future planning, tension within the body, panic attacks, feeling agitated or high-strung, and having difficulty relaxing.

In single-parent households, anxiety may be easier to hide from friends and family members. In two-parent households, one partner may notice a shift in the other when their anxiety rises. Not being observed under a microscope means you've got the chance to let your anxious feelings spiral. 

Related: 15 Wonderful Ways Parenting Gets Easier as Your Child Ages

7 Ways to Help You Move Forward

With time, most single parents actually report that being an empty nester becomes a positive experience. If you are struggling with some symptoms, know that there are many ways to process this time and create a meaningful experience.

Talk With a Therapist 

Whether you're in a good period or a difficult one, having a licensed therapist or mental health professional to turn to is a great idea. Not only does it give you a consistent forum to explore your feelings, but it also gives you someone who has the tools to guide you through them. 

Spend Time Volunteering or Working 

Volunteering is a hugely rewarding endeavor, and accomplishing tasks at work can be similarly satisfying. One study exploring Mexican-American women's experiences with empty nesting suggests that parents who have careers tend to have a less difficult time with empty nest syndrome. 

Try Something Creative 

Woman writing in her journal

Channel your emotions by doing something creative. Journaling, drawing, painting, coloring, playing music, dancing, and singing can all be great options if you're looking for an emotional release.

Redecorate Your Space 

If the emptiness in your house feels overwhelming, try redecorating! Downsize your kitchen table, rearrange your living room, or convert that spare bedroom into a craft space, workout room, or office. When there's a lot of internal change happening, having your surroundings express that change can be a big comfort. 

Lean on Your Family & Friends 

Senior women having coffee in front of suburban home

Connect with supportive friends and family members who love you. If you don't know what to do when you have no friends or family, try to get involved with an online community. Location doesn't have to be a barrier to making lifelong friends. 

Connect With Other Empty Nesters 

Connect with single empty nesters through Meetup. Meetup is a website and app that allows people to connect based on similar interests. Anyone can start a group, and there are fun events you can join around the world. 

Reach Out to Support Groups 

There are many support groups for single parents, both online and in person, who are seeking help with the emotional toll that empty nesting can have. If you don't have a partner who you can turn to, these support groups can be an awesome alternative. 

Empty Nest Support Groups

Support groups are a great way to process what you're going through. Support groups may be run by professional therapists, or take on a more group talk form where you can join conversations with topics that are relevant to your empty nest process.

  • Life in Transition: Life in Transition provides phone sessions, Skype sessions, and in-vivo support groups in California that help single parents transition during this challenging time.
  • Daily Strength: This online empty nest support group has around 1,000 members. It isn't run by a professional counselor, but you'll be able to connect with others who are going through a similar experience, including single parenting, at any time of day.
  • Empty Nest Moms: This empty nesters forum is open to any parent (despite the title) who is experiencing symptoms related to empty nesting and single parenting. There are tons of topics and forums to join depending on what you're interested in processing. This isn't run by a professional counselor, but it's a great space to read others' stories and share your own.

Embracing the New Normal Takes Time 

Empty nesting isn't all sunshine and roses and the freedom to take long vacations. It can be emotionally arduous, especially when you're going through it alone. Although this can be a tricky transition, allow yourself to put your needs first, explore your unique interests, and begin to embrace the positive aspects of this new chapter in your life. The hard work of raising a kid is behind you, and there's so much to look forward to in your solo future! 

Trending on LoveToKnow
How to Get Your Wings Back as a Single Parent Empty Nester