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Grown and flown: navigating the twists and turns of endless parenting

By Remy Meraz May 31, 2023


Key Takeaways

  • The grown and flown stage can trigger an existential crisis in parents, leading to emotional, psychological, and physical impacts.
  • Parenting doesn't end when children leave home; it simply transitions to a new phase, requiring adaptation and understanding.
  • This stage offers opportunities for self-discovery, personal growth, and strengthening relationships.
  • Coping strategies include re-framing the situation, seeking support, and maintaining connection with your grown children.
Grown and flown: navigating the twists and turns of endless parenting

You've spent years shaping, nurturing, and guiding your children's lives. One day, they're crawling, the next they're off to college, leaving behind a quiet, tidy, but eerily empty home. Welcome to the 'grown and flown' stage of parenting, a time that often gives birth to a profound existential crisis for many parents.

This stage is a unique phenomenon, filled with complex emotions and thoughts. After years of caring for your children day in and day out, their departure can leave a void that triggers an existential crisis, leading you to question your purpose and role in life now. Suddenly, the noise and chaos that seemed overwhelming are dearly missed.

But as daunting as this phase might seem, it's important to remember one essential truth: parenting never ends. Your kids might be grown and flown, but your role as a parent evolves and adapers, just as your children are doing in their new chapter of life.

In this post, we'll navigate the twists and turns of this challenging yet transformative phase, exploring the impact of an existential crisis, and offering some strategies to help you navigate this part of your parental journey. As you read on, we hope to offer reassurance and understanding that you're not alone, and that this transition can open up new, exciting opportunities for personal growth and development.

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The empty nest syndrome and the grown and flown phenomenon

Explanation of the empty nest syndrome

Empty nest syndrome is a phenomenon that parents often experience when their children leave home for the first time, typically for college or university. It's a time marked by a mix of emotions, from pride and excitement for your child's newfound independence, to sadness, loneliness, and a sense of loss. After all, your role so far has been dominated by being a parent, and the house suddenly feeling empty can be a jarring reality.

Discussing the impact of kids leaving home for college

When children depart for college, it's not just their physical presence that leaves the home; it's the daily rituals, the laughter, the shared meals, the late-night conversations, and even the sibling squabbles that leave with them. The departure of a child can feel like a piece of the family puzzle is missing. Parents might also feel a sense of pride mixed with anxiety as they wonder how their child will navigate this new world of adulthood.

Moreover, parents often grapple with the question of their relevance and utility. They wonder, "What's my role now?" or "Who am I outside of being a parent?" This is where the existential crisis can set in, as parents begin to question their identity and purpose in a house that suddenly seems too quiet.

Anecdotes or real-life stories to establish an emotional connection

Consider Jane, a mother of two, whose youngest child left for college last fall. She narrated her experience of walking into her son's room after he'd left, the lingering scent of his cologne still in the air, his guitar propped against the corner. "I felt an overwhelming wave of sadness," she said, "It was like I could still hear his music playing, still see him sprawled on his bed, reading. And in that moment, it hit me, he was really gone."

Or think of Robert, a single dad whose daughter left for university. He spoke of the first grocery trip without her, when he reached to put her favorite cereal into the cart before realizing he didn't need to anymore. It was these small moments, he said, that truly underlined the reality of his empty nest.

These stories and countless others are examples of the very real, emotional impact the 'grown and flown' phase has on parents. It's a significant life change that can be both disheartening and liberating, leaving parents to grapple with an existential crisis while also learning to redefine their identity.

Understanding existential crisis in the context of parenting

Understanding existential crisis in the context of parenting

Definition and explanation of an existential crisis

An existential crisis is a moment in one's life when they question the very foundations of their existence. It involves questioning one's purpose, the meaning of life, and one's role in the world. Often triggered by a significant event, such as a major life change, these crises can lead to feelings of discomfort, confusion, and sometimes, deep despair.

In the context of parenting, the existential crisis might sound like, "Who am I if I'm not actively parenting?" or "What's the meaning of my life now that my kids don't need me as much?" These profound questions can unsettle parents, stirring deep introspection and reevaluation of personal values and life purpose.

Correlation between empty nest syndrome and existential crisis

The link between empty nest syndrome and an existential crisis lies in the abrupt change in parental roles. For many years, the primary identity of parents revolves around their children. They're often consumed by day-to-day tasks like school runs, homework, meal times, and endless extracurricular activities. When these tasks suddenly disappear with the departure of the children, parents may find themselves facing an identity crisis, questioning their purpose and worth.

This radical change can trigger an existential crisis, leading parents to question not only their identity but also their significance and value. The silent rooms and empty chairs at dinner are stark reminders of a life that once was, pushing parents to seek new meaning and purpose in their lives.

Discussion on why some parents experience an existential crisis when their kids leave for college

The crux of why some parents experience an existential crisis when their kids leave for college lies in the sudden vacuum left behind. This vacuum is not just physical but also emotional and psychological. Over the years, parents create an identity heavily influenced by their children. When the children grow up and fly away, this identity seems threatened, leading parents to face challenging existential questions.

Moreover, this shift also uncovers parents' deeply rooted fears and anxieties about their children's well-being and their own aging. It's a period of significant transformation that, while offering opportunities for growth and self-discovery, can also generate feelings of loss, confusion, and insecurity.

It's important to remember that these feelings are normal and are a part of the grown and flown process. Understanding this can be the first step towards navigating the existential crisis that often accompanies this phase of parenting.

Effects of the existential crisis on parents

Effects of the existential crisis on parents

Emotional impacts: loneliness, sadness, loss of purpose

An existential crisis sparked by the grown and flown stage can have profound emotional impacts on parents. Loneliness is often one of the most immediate feelings experienced. The quiet house, the empty bedrooms, and the absence of daily interaction with their children can feel isolating. Parents might experience bouts of sadness as they reflect on their child's growing up years and the rapidity with which they passed.

Perhaps one of the most profound emotional impacts is the loss of purpose. After years of centering their lives around their children, parents can struggle to find new meaning and direction, causing feelings of confusion and despair. This loss of purpose can take a toll on their emotional well-being and may take time to navigate and understand.

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Psychological impacts: anxiety, depression, questioning self-worth and identity

The psychological impacts of an existential crisis during the grown and flown stage can be significant. Anxiety can manifest as parents worry about their children's safety and well-being in a world where they can't protect them round the clock. It's not uncommon for parents to feel a sense of dread or fear as they adjust to this new reality.

Depression can also set in as the parents adjust to the quietness of an empty home and grapple with the feelings of sadness and loss. They might experience a decrease in motivation and struggle with feelings of hopelessness.

Furthermore, parents might start questioning their self-worth and identity. They might ask, "Who am I if not a parent?" or "What value do I bring to the world now?" This questioning can lead to a challenging identity crisis that takes time and effort to resolve.

Physical impacts: sleep disorders, lack of motivation, changes in appetite

Physical impacts of the existential crisis during the grown and flown stage can be surprisingly significant. Parents might experience sleep disorders, such as insomnia or oversleeping, as their minds are filled with worry or sadness.

A lack of motivation can also manifest physically, as parents might find it difficult to engage in daily activities, hobbies, or exercise that they previously enjoyed.

Changes in appetite are another common physical impact. Some parents might eat less due to stress or sadness, while others might eat more as a form of comfort.

The key to navigating these physical impacts is recognizing them for what they are: normal responses to a significant life transition. Seeking professional help, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, and staying socially connected can all contribute to easing these effects.

Discover the power of embracing a growth mindset in the face of adversity.

Navigating the twists and turns of endless parenting

Understanding that parenting doesn't end when kids leave home

The first step in navigating the grown and flown stage is understanding that parenting doesn't end when your kids leave home. It evolves. The job shifts from daily hands-on care to more of a mentor and supporter role. This stage is as much about letting go as it is about embracing a new form of parenting.

Yes, your children might be exploring their independence, but they'll still need you. They'll need your advice, your comfort, your encouragement, and sometimes just your listening ear. The emptiness of the nest doesn't equate to the end of your parenting journey; instead, it signals a transition into a new phase filled with its own unique rewards and challenges.

Reinforcing the role of parents in the grown and flown stage

In the grown and flown stage, parents play a vital role. You're still their safe harbor, their guiding light, and their most trusted advisor. The wisdom, strength, and love you provide remain as crucial as ever.

Your role now is to provide a safety net as they explore their independence, to encourage them as they tackle new challenges, and to celebrate their successes along the way. You're also their connection to home, to their roots, a constant in a world that's rapidly changing for them.

Discussing the changes and adaptations in the parenting role

As your children grow and fly away, your parenting role inevitably changes and adapts. You might find that your conversations with your kids shift from day-to-day tasks to more substantial life decisions. Your role might involve more listening and less directing, more advising and less enforcing.

You might also have to navigate setting boundaries for this new relationship dynamic, figuring out how to respect their autonomy while staying connected and involved. These changes can be challenging but also rewarding as you witness your child's growth and maturation.

Adapting to these changes requires patience, understanding, and most importantly, an open heart and mind. It's a time for you, too, to grow and evolve, to rediscover yourself outside of active parenthood, and to embark on this new journey alongside your grown and flown children.

Positive aspects of the grown and flown stage

Opportunity for self-discovery and personal growth

While the grown and flown stage can be a time of sadness and confusion, it can also be a remarkable period for self-discovery and personal growth. With more time and space in your life, you have the opportunity to rediscover who you are outside of being a parent.

It's a time to explore your interests, to reflect on your dreams and aspirations, and to set new goals for yourself. It's also a time for personal development, a chance to learn new skills or dive deeper into a passion that might have taken a back seat while you were raising your children.

New hobbies and interests: finding joy in new experiences

Now that you have more time, why not explore new hobbies and interests? Whether it's painting, hiking, writing, gardening, learning a new language or instrument, or even going back to school, the possibilities are endless.

Finding joy in new experiences can be incredibly fulfilling. It can help fill the void left by your kids' departure and can provide a sense of purpose and excitement. Remember, this stage is as much about you as it is about your children. It's a chance to celebrate your hard work and to indulge in activities that bring you happiness and fulfillment.

Strengthening of marital or partner relationships

If you're in a relationship or married, the grown and flown stage can also provide a unique opportunity to reconnect with your partner. For years, your lives may have revolved primarily around your children, their needs, and their schedules. Now, you can focus more on each other.

You can rediscover why you fell in love, explore new activities together, and strengthen your relationship. It's also an opportunity to discuss and plan your future together, be it travel plans, career changes, or new shared interests.

Yes, the nest might be empty, but it doesn't mean your life has to be. The grown and flown stage, while challenging, also opens up a world of opportunities for self-discovery, growth, and deeper connections. It's an invitation to embrace change and to find joy in this new chapter of your life.

If you're looking for practical tips on living your best life, check out our posts Be the Best Version of You: 11 Tips for Living Your Best Life and Why You Should Learn to Love Yourself First for valuable insights and strategies.

If you're interested in understanding the psychological aspects of parenting and personal development, you may find it helpful to explore Erikson's Stages of Psychosocial Development Explained for valuable insights and guidance.

Learn more about dealing with midlife crises in our related post on male midlife crisis stages.

Strategies to cope with existential crisis

Re-framing the situation: from emptiness to opportunity

One of the most powerful strategies to cope with an existential crisis during the grown and flown stage is to re-frame your perspective. Instead of viewing your empty nest as a loss, try viewing it as an opportunity for new beginnings.

Embrace the space and time you now have as a chance to engage in activities you love, to set new personal goals, and to explore different facets of your identity. It's a time to celebrate your successes as a parent and to look forward to the possibilities that await you. Remember, transitions can be opportunities for transformation.

Seeking support: professional counseling, support groups, friends, and family

Navigating an existential crisis can be challenging, but you don't have to do it alone. Don't hesitate to seek professional help if the feelings of sadness, confusion, or anxiety become overwhelming. Counselors and therapists can provide tools and strategies to help you manage these emotions.

Joining support groups can also be helpful. Connecting with others who are experiencing similar feelings can provide comfort, understanding, and practical advice. And of course, leaning on your friends and family for emotional support can make a significant difference.

Staying connected with children: using technology, regular visits, maintaining open communication

Just because your children have flown the nest doesn't mean your connection with them needs to weaken. Make an effort to stay connected with your children, be it through regular phone calls, video chats, emails, or even social media.

Plan for regular visits, but also respect their need for independence. It's a delicate balance between staying involved in their lives and respecting their autonomy, and it's one that you and your children can navigate together.

Maintaining open communication is key. Let them know you're there for them, ready to listen, advise, or simply share in their successes and challenges. And remember, while you're staying connected with them, make sure to stay connected with yourself, too.

Coping with an existential crisis during the grown and flown stage may not be easy, but with the right strategies and support, it's a journey you can navigate with resilience and grace. If you're interested in learning more about gaslighting and its effects, we recommend reading our post on Unveiling the Dark Art of Gaslighting: Real-World Gaslight Examples and Experiences for valuable insights and personal experiences.


The grown and flown stage of parenting is a poignant transition, filled with mixed emotions and significant changes. It's an uncharted territory that can often trigger an existential crisis, causing parents to grapple with feelings of loneliness, sadness, and confusion.

But remember, this stage is not a period of loss, but one of transformation. It's a transition from one form of parenting to another, a shift from a bustling home to a quieter one, and an evolution of your identity. Embrace this transition, understanding that parenting never ends, it just changes.

While the challenges might seem daunting, know that you are not alone. Reach out for support, seek professional help if needed, and lean on your loved ones. Don't shy away from these feelings, but rather face them with courage and patience.

And in the midst of this all, don't forget to explore the numerous opportunities this stage presents. This is a time for self-discovery, personal growth, and new experiences. It's a chance to redefine your relationship with your partner, to explore new hobbies and interests, and to stay connected with your grown and flown children in meaningful ways.

The empty nest period may feel like an existential crisis, but remember, it's also a new beginning. This is your time to soar, just as your children are learning to do. Here's to embracing the endless journey of parenting, with all its twists, turns, joys, and challenges.

If you're looking for self-reflection questions to nurture your mind, body, and soul during this transformative phase, check out our post on 45 Self-Reflection Questions to Nurture Your Mind, Body, and Soul for valuable insights and guidance. Check out Zella Life selected for Google for Startups Latino Founders Fund if you are interested in scaling to the next level.

Read more about: Existential Crisis

About Remy Meraz

Remy Meraz, co-founder, and CEO of Zella Life, is a visionary leader who leveraged corporate glass ceiling challenges as a woman of color to drive systemic change.

While leading and cultivating high-performance teams from VC-backed startups to Fortune 500, she consistently faced obstacles such as inadequate mentorship, lack of psychological safety, and non-personalized training. Taking matters into her own hands, she turned to executive coaching and NLP training. This life-changing growth experience led to breaking leadership barriers and a passion for cognitive psychology.

Motivated by her experiences, she co-founded Zella Life, an innovative AI-driven coaching platform bridging the talent development gap by enhancing soft skills and emotional intelligence (EQ) in the workplace.

Her vision with Zella Life is to transform professional development into an inclusive and impactful journey, focused on the distinct needs of both individuals and organizations. She aims to promote advancement and culture change by ensuring every professional's growth is acknowledged and supported.

Today, Remy is recognized as an influential innovator, trainer, mentor, and business leader. Under her leadership, Zella Life has delivered significant measurable outcomes for numerous well-known brands. This track record of positive outcomes garnered attention and funding from Google for Startups and Pledge LA, establishing Zella Life as a pivotal force in the learning and development arena tackling and resolving fundamental talent development issues for organizations of all sizes.

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