Empty Nest Not So Bad?

When Firstborn Leaves Home, Relationship Changes -- Often in Rewarding Ways

Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on February 22, 2008
From the WebMD Archives

Feb. 22, 2008 -- When firstborn kids grow up and leave home, it's an adjustment for parents, but that shift can rewarding, not the bleak "empty nest syndrome" some may expect.

That's according to a new study of parents whose eldest child had recently left home as a young adult.

The study included 142 pairs of moms and dads. Those parents weren't quite empty nesters; they still had at least one younger child at home. But their nest had begun emptying; their eldest child had left home, typically for college.

By telephone, the researchers interviewed the parents about their relationship with their newly independent child.

Moms and dads were pretty much on the same wavelength; both tended to see positive changes in the parent-child relationship.

One of those changes was getting to know their child as an adult. "I just love the independency ... I'm seeing maturity," said a mother whose 19-year-old daughter was away at college.

Parents also found themselves advising or mentoring their child, but not as an authority figure. "It's not like talking to my daughter," one father said. "It's like talking to one of my own peers."

There were exceptions. In some families, the transition was rocky, with kids disconnecting from the family to the point that parents felt cut out of their child's life.

Some parents still needed to lay down the law in certain situations, like the father who commented on his son's visits home. "He knows, for instance, if he stays out all hours of the night while he is here, he is going to hear about it. Certain rules still apply," said the father.

As for money, kids weren't flying solo just yet. Their parents were still helping them out financially.

The University of Missouri's Christine Proulx, PhD, and colleagues report their findings in the January/February edition of the Journal of Family Issues.

(Have your kids flown the nest? How did you feel about it? Chat with others on WebMD's Active Aging: Support Group board.)

Show Sources


Proulx, C. Journal of Family Issues, February 2008; vol 29: pp 234-261.

News release, University of Missouri.

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