The Unexpected Empty Nest: 12 Tips for Mom Blues

Circumstances have a way of taking unforeseen turns and sometimes we find ourselves in a situation of living apart from our minor children. There can be a multitude of reasons–divorce, financial issues, geographical moves or even the kid’s own choice–but typically this is not the scenario we’d envisioned when we became mothers. We imagined that we had more time, at least 18 years, and we didn’t expect to be staring at an empty nest so early in the game. It’s a course shift of epic proportions. It can be bewildering, lonely and unbearably sad. And if estrangement is involved, the ache pulls even deeper. But as with most things on this capricious odyssey, we somehow learn to adapt. Here are twelve tips for surviving the unexpected empty nest and the mom blues that come with it.

  1. Early on, you will probably be in a state of shock. Don’t flail. In your pain and disorientation, you may say or do something stupid. Take a giant step back and go into chill mode. Catch your breath. Wait for perspective.
  2. Get support. Call in reinforcements. Gather around your best people–the loyal souls who love you more than anything–and lean on them.
  3. Be a steadfast and loving presence for your child, even if nothing but shit is being hurled your way. Remember your Buddha nature. Summon it forth.
  4. This fucking hurts. It’s grief, baby. Honor it. Feel it.
  5. But don’t allow yourself to be debilitated. Don’t let it break you. Even if your kid isn’t interacting with you, on some level, you’re still modeling. Show grace under fire.
  6. Double-down on your self-care. Eat clean. Get enough sleep. Go outside. Move your body. Calm your mind as best you can. You deserve wellness.
  7. The situation may leave you feeling like a “bad mom.” For most of us, nothing could be worse than the possibility that we’ve somehow failed our children. Chances are, however, this isn’t the case. Life is messy. Sometimes our best efforts are null in the face of relational complexities, human foibles and all the things that are beyond our control. Other perspectives are crucial. See number two.
  8. Do what you can from the sidelines. Go to your kid’s concerts and sporting events. Stay tuned in with the school. If you are in a positive co-parenting situation, work with that to whatever extent possible. If not, shore up your dignity and keep trying. We were not meant to mother from the margins. But sometimes it’s all we’ve got.
  9. A lot of people will say, “They come back to you.” That may or may not be true. Either way, it doesn’t ease the pain of the here and now.  And it takes you out of the present moment, which is all you really have – with your children or anyone.
  10. Use the time windfall to focus on yourself. Explore new things. Check out all the places you’ve been meaning to get to. Motherhood is just once piece of your greater narrative. Figure out who you are again. Expand. You might not have asked for this particular freedom, but enjoy it all the same.
  11. Guilt will suffocate you. Don’t linger in that space. If you made mistakes, forgive yourself. Learn. Replace rumination on regret with creativity. Make art. Play music. Write. Knit. The flow will save you every time.
  12. Motherhood can be the ultimate practice of letting go. I learned that immediately, on my first day as a mom. As wrenching as it may be, sometimes it’s your only option.

You will be adrift for a little while, your equilibrium compromised. Your most basic instincts are stifled and your weary heart is barely beating. Treat yourself with intention, tenderness and great care. Stories unfold across eons. You can’t see everything right now. Be brave. Breath deeply. Hunker down for the distance and trust love. It still matters. Love always matters.


The children you see today
will not be here tomorrow.
The child arriving home from school,
is different from the one
who left from home this morning.
Every moment is a death
of all that has gone before,
and a birth
of all that is to come.
You must jump into the river
and let it carry you on its journey.
If you try to stop it
you will drown.

– William Martin